When my editor told me I would be writing a story about how Joe Biden – after he gave one of the most memorable speeches of his long and illustrious political career – would be featuring on "Law & Order: SVU," I was 100 percent positive that she was kidding.
But then, I began reading about it. And my life started improving by the second.
At first, I thought – or maybe hoped – that he'd be playing the corpse of an aging gigolo who had been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Alas, not everything one wishes for is fated to come true.
As of yet, there has been no word whether Biden will be playing himself or not. But the White House has released a statement regarding the (really great) reason he wanted to be featured on the show:
The Vice President will tape an appearance on [the series] on the rape kit backlog and efforts to end violence against women.
Rape kits, for those of you who don't know, are what law enforcement officials call the collecting of DNA evidence from rape victims after they have been assaulted. A rape kit is often the deciding factor with regard to whether or not someone is found guilty of a crime.
Biden has long been a strong advocate for women. In 1994, he played an integral role in passing the Violence Against Women Act.
Now, you might think that it's beneath a vice president to appear on a show like this. But the fact is, "Law & Order: SVU" is one of the most watched and successful shows in history. If Biden can use it to inform millions of people about the absolutely appalling backlog of rape kits in this country, that's a big deal.
In 2014, the US still had an estimated 400,000 untested rape kits. Although there have been some efforts to bring that number down, there is still an undeniable amount of work left to do.
There are a lot of reasons that the number of untested kits is so high. First of all, as the Daily Beast points out, the FBI's DNA criminal database didn't exist until the '90s. And the thing is, many of these kits were made in the '70s and early '80s, when DNA testing wasn't used for crimes. The first successful use of a DNA test in a criminal case came in 1986.
Secondly, as Scott Berkowitz – the founder and president of the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (or RAINN) – explained to the Daily Beast, “Some only pursue the ones they have the best chance of solving." And "others only test if the alleged rapist is a stranger.”
The reasoning behind this is that DNA testing is used to identify an attacker. So, why would it be useful when the victim knows his or her attacker? Well, as Berkowitz went on to say,
The reality these days is you have to have DNA if you're going to prosecute a case. DNA can point to inconsistencies or lies in a suspect's story. Often, they'll say they didn't have sex at all. DNA can prove that is a lie, and the investigation becomes easier.
But the real cause, as I see it, behind all the untested kits is that testing is tremendously expensive. Testing each kit can cost as much as $1,500 dollars. So, it's no great surprise (although it's still deeply troubling) that cities like Memphis – which in 2014 had 12,000 untested rape kits alone – would not be eager to tackle the endeavor.
This is all just to say that Biden appearing on this TV show is, in a word, awesome. We have to do whatever it takes to get the word out.
People need to realize that sexual violence is a national emergency. Only around 3 percent of all rapists actually ever spend a single day in prison.