The Senate on Thursday voted to renew the Debbie Smith Act, aimed at cutting the backlog of untested rape kits. The bill, already passed in the House, now heads to President Obama to become law.
The original bill was authored by Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY) and was signed into law by former President George W. Bush in 2004. It was named after rape survivor Debbie Smith who gave DNA samples for a rape kit but didn’t find out who her attacker was or what had happened to him until six years later when the kit was finally processed. She lived those six years in fear of him coming back for her only to find out he had been serving time in prison for a different crime.
The Act was reauthorized in 2008, and provided $151 million each year until this year to get backlogged rape kits processed. The current push for reauthorization would keep the Act funded through the 2019 fiscal year. This year’s reauthorization would allocate an overall amount of $968 million.
In the Act’s original language, Rep. Maloney wrote that 75 percent of the law’s funds must be used to process backlogged rape kits. The Act also created grants to conduct audits in order to track the backlogged kits in labs across the US.
“There are tens of thousands of rape kits that have not been tested and that means tens of thousands of survivors are left without answers,” Rep. Maloney said in a statement following the Senate vote. “I am hopeful that Congress will take additional steps to ensure that no woman is attacked by a person who could have been taken off our streets if only there were the resources to eliminate the rape kit backlog.
In 2010, the National Institute of Justice conducted a study to find out approximately how many DNA kits were backlogged nationally. They found that there were more than 111,000 samples untested at crime labs in 2009 – compared to the 38,000 backlogged cases that were reported in a 2005 Bureau of Justice Statistics study. According to the Rape Kit Action Project, however, there may be as many as 300,000 additional kits in law enforcement storage.
The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) calls the Debbie Smith Act among “the most important anti-rape legislation in history.” RAINN President and Founder Scott Berkowitz said the Senate vote would “help crime labs test evidence from thousands of open rape cases, and will aid efforts to bring many rapists to justice.”
Only three states have laws specifically addressing rape kit backlogs: Colorado, Illinois, and Texas.
Media Resources: ThinkProgress 9/22/2014; RAINN 9/18/2014; Carolyn B. Maloney Media Center 9/18/2014; The Hill 9/18/2014; National Institute of Justice; Rape Kit Action Project