Faith-based Leaders Help Raise Awareness on Rape Kits, HIV/AIDS Issues


Pastor Phyllis Scott’s sermonette incorporated stories about faith and wellness in her recent church meeting. Photo by Stephen Brooks.

The city of Houston has passed a new $5 “pole tax” by a 14 -1 vote on strip clubs to fund the backlog of the 4,000 to 6,000 untested rape kits.

Thebill was put forward by City Councilmember Ellen Cohen to raise over $1 million needed to pay for the processing of the rape kits. She believes that strip cubs owe it to rape victims since they encourage unhealthy attitudes towards women.

The estimated cost to process an individual rape kit ranges from $1,000 to $1, 5000.

Oakland Pastor Phyllis Scott of Tree of Life Empowerment Ministries favors the tax and says that culturally, it is the right thing to do.

“I think there is a double standard in our justice system when it comes to sexual crimes against women,” said Scott.

“People seem to be more concerned with questions about whether the women provoked the attack, or if she teased the perpetrator rather than the bottom line. Rape is the murder of a woman’s self esteem and spirit.”

Last year, the California state crime lab tested over 5,000 pieces of evidence, a 24 percent increase from 2009. California has the largest DNA bank in the U.S., and investigators have begun to re-run DNA profiles that didn’t come up with a match in the past. Due to technology, tests that normally take four months to complete now can be done in 30 days.

In January, California Attorney General Kamala Harris announced the end to the rape kit backlog that had previously delayed the analysis of evidence collected through forensic examinations. She said the California Department of Justice will now be able to analyze routine DNA evidence in 30 days.

Pastor Scott is the founder of “Exodus,” a teen prostitution recovery ministry that counsels at-risk youth and victims of sexual assault in Oakland.

Scott says that churches can be doing more to help end the backlog of rape kits in communities by addressing the issue during Sunday service.

“In some ways, the church has pushed this issue under the rug and now more than ever, we need the churches to collectively put their foot down to stop this violence against women,” said Scott.

“There are some initiatives on the ballot to increase money and resources towards solving the safety issues that have to be taken seriously by African Americans,” said Pastor Gerald Agee of Friendship Christian Center in Oakland.

“There is some stigma around bringing up issues of sexual assault and rape in the church, but I think it’s the best place to speak about it. Communities can come to a greater understanding by bringing these taboo subjects to light,” he said.

Pastors Scott and Agee have both been informing their congregants from the Oakland Post news coverage of issues covering rape kit backlog, HIV/AIDS awareness and Michelle Obama’s wellness and exercise campaign.

With the pioneering health ministry of Dr. Robert Scott more than 15 years ago, the Allen Temple Baptist Church has been the national faith-based pacesetter with its HIV/AIDS ministry in Africa and Oakland.

Dr. Geoffrey Watson and the Watson Wellness Center have continued to bring his mobile testing vans to churches, Black expos and street health fairs.

“I will continue to work with and speak at churches to encourage everyone to get tested for HIV/AIDS and know their status,” said Dr. Watson. The mobile community health vans were started more than 50 years ago by Dr. Mary Brown of the Market Street Seventh-day Adventist Church in Oakland.

Jesse Brooks, Oakland Post HIV/AIDS columnist, and Congresswoman Barbara Lee will present the health outreach efforts of Bay Area churches at the World AIDS conference next week in Washington, D.C.

According to Human Rights Watch, there are around 500,000 untested rape kits sitting in police facilities and crime labs across the country.

Counties like Alameda are encouraged to bring their untested rape kits to the state in cases where the perpetrator has not been identified, and the state promises to work on getting the kits tested within 15 days or less.

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