Actress Mariska Hargitay, who plays an NYC sex-crimes detective on "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" got it right when she said prosecutors had shown flagrant disrespect to women by routinely failing to follow through on DNA testing in rape cases.

That's maddening. But we're happy to hear that Cyrus Vance, Manhattan's district attorney, has set out to repair this ugly lapse with a plan to help prosecutors nationwide do such tests. Hargitay's Joyful Heart Foundation and other groups will help Vance with the distribution of $35 million in civil forfeiture assets.

Why a national program? Because no person should be violated and no violator should go free.

The testing of rape evidence -- hair, blood and other bodily secretions -- should be a police staple. But lab tests cost $1,000 each, and authorities in places like Cleveland, Memphis and Tulsa can't always afford them.

This is very dangerous.

Look at New York. The city had a backlog of about 17,000 untested cases in 2000. Over the next four years, it managed to clear hundreds of them -- and that effort led to 49 indictments in Manhattan alone. It has since tested all of the files.

It's crazy for any city to let sex offenders prowl its streets without accountability for their crimes.

Vance's program is crucial.

The Manhattan DA's office for years has been one of America's premier law enforcement agencies. And if New York can help struggling cities with tighter sex-crime enforcement, the results could be dramatic.

Detroit prosecutor Kym Worthy, who appeared with Vance and Hargitay last week, said she found 11,341 files of untested rape evidence in a shuttered warehouse a few years ago. After testing 2,000 files, Worthy's office turned up 473 matches related to unsolved crimes.

This program is about more than clearing the streets. If effective, it will tell victims their safety matters to all of us. It will tell evildoers they're not home free yet.

And it will show all of us that America is still a place where justice must prevail for everyone.