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D.C. Comedy Group Aims To End Rape Kit Backlog

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Comedienne Erin Jackson headlined last year's benefit show at George Washington University.
Pete Bergen
Comedienne Erin Jackson headlined last year's benefit show at George Washington University.

Pete Bergen organizes comedy, improv and stand-up shows in the D.C. area under the group name Chinese Menu Comedy. Tonight he and other comics will get crowds laughing at a benefit event for Natasha's Justice Project (NJP), a non-profit organization dedicated to exposing and eliminating the national backlog of unprocessed rape kits through education, advocacy and funding.

Bergen says there's nothing funny about sexual assault. "But that's not what we're there to talk about," he says. "We're there to do a comedy show, have a good time, celebrate survival, and the best by-product of that is we're raising money and awareness about this amazing cause."

Bergen will get the laughter rolling and Danny Rouhier will headline the event, which will be hosted by stand-up comic Jessica Brodkin.

This isn't Bergen's first time working with NJP. Chinese Menu Comedy hosted a benefit show for the organization last year at George Washington University. Bergen says that event brought in nearly $10,000.

Tonight's show will be presented in the Kay Spiritual Life Center at American University. NJP founder and spokesperson Natasha Alexenko says college students need to hear the message most.

"We know one in four college-aged women can expect to be sexually assaulted in their lifetime," she says. "Statistically, rape typically is between the ages of 16 and 23. That is a demographic and that is a college-aged demographic."

She says she also finds that college students are very engaged in and excited about this topic. "They really mobilize," she says. "They really, really are focused on making sure that we eliminate the backlog."

Alexenko says it's important to reach out to both female college students and their male peers. "Really, the way we stop rape is together," she says, "men and women together."

A survivor of sexual assault, Alexenko waited for more than 9 years for justice. Eventually her perpetrator was apprehended through a DNA match, but she says thousands of other survivors are still waiting.

She says outdated systems and the culture surrounding sexual assault are to blame. "It's something we don't really talk about," she says. "It is about time that we come forward and say this is a crime, and it's a crime that's occurring at an alarming rate. One in four women can expect to be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. This is an epidemic, so we need to talk about it."

She adds that while DNA can be used to exonerate the innocent and implicate the guilty, the technology used to test it is growing a lot quicker than law enforcement can keep up with. As a result, she says an estimated 400,000 rape kits sit unprocessed in police custody and county storage facilities.

"It's not moving forward," she says. "Perpetrators [are] out in the street, committing additional crime and the victim is unfortunately left feeling that they've been victimized once again."

American University's student dance team, AU in Motion, will kick off the event with a Bollywood dance performance. After the show, there will be a partial screening of the HBO documentary Sex Crimes Unit, which features Alexenko sharing her story. Following the video, there will be a brief Q&A during which audience members can ask Alexenko about her story and the mission of NJP.

You can buy tickets to tonight's event here.

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