Las Cruces woman hosts fundraiser to clear rape kit backlog for victims like her; Legislators: “do your jobs” so she doesn’t have to

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There are over 5,000 untested rape kits in New Mexico evidence rooms. The issue with eliminating such a large backlog is funding. Funding is always an issue though, isn’t it?

Tired of waiting, one former rape victim is launching her own campaign to raise funds to end the rape kit testing backlog to bring justice for victims like her.

Here’s her story:
benefit-flyer

Jessi Lail and others have organized a fundraising dinner and concert for Friday, August 19th to raise funds for victims to be able to go and petition the legislature directly. Additional funds will supplement victim’s services at La Pinon Sexual Assault Recovery Services.

“The End the Backlog in New Mexico fundraiser is in response to the massive number of rape kits that have gone untested in our state. As a rape victim myself, seeing so many untested evidence kits reduces my faith in the justice process, and makes me feel like crimes against my person don’t matter or aren’t worth handling. This fundraiser seeks to re-empower these silenced voices so that our needs and public safety at large can be addressed.”  Jessi’s op-ed about the event is available online at NMpolitics.net.

(more on how you can support this campaign at the end of this post)

Budget woes are not something new to New Mexico’s legislature. We find ourselves again discussing a special session to address the budget and asking what “needs” to be included, what can be postponed, and where more revenue can be found in the future.

These are legitimate questions but something missing from the dialog is a firm commitment from elected officials to follow through on those things that not only need funding now, but also, honestly, should have been funded better in the past.

Nothing is more relevant to that idea than the obscene amount of untested rape kits sitting around in New Mexico evidence lockers waiting for funding to be processed. These kits are not some political hot potato or part of larger partisan narrative.

These kits are the evidence of a person, usually a woman, who has been violated against their will. This evidence was collected when victims were at their most vulnerable and with the promise that at least something could be done in the pursuit of justice.

But now, sitting on these shelves, they represent the worst of the broken, piecemeal budgets that are hackneyed together every year in Santa Fe.

Last year there were two separate funding bills put forward to try and end the backlog. According to the Santa Fe New Mexican, “Cabinet Secretary Greg Fouratt of the Department of Public Safety asked for at least $1.7 million to eliminate the backlog.”

A $2.3 million package was floated in the Democratic-led State Senate shortly thereafter. 

But the new Republican majority in the House opted for a much smaller $1.2 million package, prompting this response from the state’s Department of Public Safety: “DPS states that the appropriation for the stated purpose is insufficient since it is limited to additional staffing and the time in which to use the appropriation is limited to one fiscal year.”

In other words the GOP knew their plan would not be enough to solve the problem, but it got headlines for Republican leaders and they moved on.

At the end of the session, a “compromise” bill of $1.6 million made it out of the House and was signed into law. While news services labeled the bill as a bi-partisan success, the money was not enough to fully end the backlog as it stands, (nor was it permanent funding) and so the battle must be fought yet again this coming year. Of course now it will be fighting against other “basic services” bills for funding in a session where there’s a purported $150 million shortfall.

This is unacceptable. Victims deserve better than this. Evidence of crimes should be utilized to prosecute the criminals who perpetrated them. It is with this in mind that a group in southern New Mexico is taking matters into their own hands to try and rally victims of sexual assaults up to Santa Fe during the 2017 session.

It is unthinkable that victims should have to make this trek to stand up on the public record and talk about what is arguably one of the darkest moments of their lives in order to get legislators to do their job. However unfair it is that they must travel to Santa Fe,  those who are willing to make the trek and to stand up and be heard, they deserve our support.

We know that New Mexicans across the state care about this issue. You may not be able to make it to the fundraiser on the 19th, but if you follow the link below you can still contribute to their effort directly.

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