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Wednesday, March 20 , 2019, 3:25 am | Overcast 54º


Diane Dimond: Government Finally Getting Serious About Catching Rapists

So get this. Top justice officials have figured out a way to make the bad guys finance programs that help solve crimes. It’s such a unique solution to a long-standing problem that I just have to share.

The District Attorney’s Office in Manhattan — a jurisdiction that includes one of the preeminent financial centers of the world — is in a matchless position to collect billions of dollars from international banks that concoct schemes to get around U.S. sanctions.

For example, the French bank officials at BNP Paribas were forced to admit they illegally moved hundreds of millions of dollars through New York banks for clients in terror-sponsoring countries such as Iran and Sudan. For threatening the security of our nation’s banking system and breaking our sanctions the French bank was fined more than $8.8 billion in penalties and criminal forfeiture.

District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., working with U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, has successfully prosecuted seven similar cases and already has raked in about $12 billion.

So, what happened to all that money? It went into a special fund that’s now doling out awards to cash poor and very grateful law enforcement departments across the country.

The windfall is funding several different crime-fighting initiatives, but the one that caught my eye was the award of $38 million to 20 states earmarked for DNA testing of backlogged rape kits.

It’s enough funding to clear out more than 56,000 sexual assault kits that have gone untested, some of them for years. The money will help hire more lab techs and investigate leads after results come in.

I’ve written frequently here about how law enforcement has missed the boat in not making this a top priority. Rapists rarely have just one victim, according to experts.

While it is hard to quantify the activity of these often stealthy criminals, one often-quoted study examined 41 known serial rapists, who admitted they were collectively responsible for at least 837 violent rapes and more than 400 attempted rapes. That’s more than 30 crimes per rapist!

Among the excuses given in the past for not testing rape kits: The suspect pleaded guilty; the witness was too afraid or traumatized to testify thus canceling a trial; or the case was nonprosecutable.

But (shouting here) none of that matters! Test the rape kit, for goodness’ sake, because the DNA findings could very well solve other cold cases. It could help put these predators in prison!

All rape kit contents — like left-behind hair, semen, skin cells and saliva — are tested to identify the attacker’s DNA. That profile is then entered into the national data base called CODIS — short for “combined DNA index system” — and detectives across the country can access the system to see if their rape evidence matches any past sex attack.

Thousands of rapists have been caught over the years thanks to CODIS. Sometimes simply tracking the location of where the DNA was deposited is enough to catch a rapist. Sometimes police discover the guilty party is already serving time.

That, in turn, has brought immeasurable peace of mind to victims. Instead of cowering at home or looking over their shoulders when they go out, they can finally feel safe.

I don’t know who inspired whom, but as the Manhattan district attorney announced the $38 million grant he was joined by the Justice Department, which kicked in another $41 million to try to finally catch up on the nation’s sexual assault kit backlog.

Something tells me the initiative came together with a big assist from the victims’ rights group, Joyful Heart Foundation, founded by actress Mariska Hargitay. She portrays NYPD sex crimes detective Olivia Benson on the TV series Law & Order: SVU. She’s been a tireless advocate for timely kit testing for years now.

But as her organization reports, experts estimate there are still “hundreds of thousands of untested kits in police and crime lab storage throughout the country.”

There’s still a lot of catching up to do. And as Hargitay puts it, “To me, the rape kit backlog is one of the clearest and most shocking demonstrations of how we regard these crimes in our society. Testing rape kits sends a fundamental and crucial message to victims of sexual violence: You matter. What happened to you matters.”

Yes. It does. And understand that violent rapists often commit other crimes — burglaries, drug and gun crimes, even murders. It has to be a national priority to test these kits within days, not years. The need to get these sickening offenders off the street is a no-brainer.

Diane Dimond is the author of Be Careful Who You Love: Inside the Michael Jackson Case. Contact her at [email protected], follow her on Twitter: @DiDimond, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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