Representatives Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Dean Heller (R-NV) introduced a bill today in the House to address the national crisis of untested rape kit backlogs. The Justice for Survivors of Sexual Assault Act of 2009 is the House version of a Senate bill introduced earlier this month.
According to Human Rights Watch, there are approximately 200,000 reported rapes each year and, in most cases, DNA evidence is collected and stored in a “rape kit.” In 2004, Congress passed the Debbie Smith Act, which authorized the use of federal funds to test DNA kits. However, the law did not specify that the DNA kits be rape kits. Earlier this year, Human Rights Watch discovered that Los Angeles had a backlog of over 12,500 untested rape kits in spite of having received about $8 million Debbie Smith Act funds. Other cities, such as Detroit, have a backlog of 10,000 untested rape kits or more. There are no current national statistics regarding the number of untested rape kits, because no state or federal laws mandate law enforcement agencies collect this information. Some estimates suggest the total number of untested kits is over 180,000.
Congresswoman Maloney said in a press release, “Every two minutes someone is sexually assaulted somewhere in the United States. DNA evidence doesn’t forget and it cannot be intimidated…By processing this evidence, we can prevent rapists from attacking more innocent victims and ensure that the survivors and their families receive justice.”
If passed, financial incentives would be introduced to process rape kit backlogs quickly, require that jurisdictions receiving Debbie Smith funds use them for rape kit testing, and would mandate that these jurisdictions have a plan to reduce their rape kit backlog by 50 percent in two years. The bill also creates a mechanism for collecting national data on rape kit backlogs and addresses the lack of trained medical professionals to process the kits. The bill would eliminate the common practice of rape survivors paying for the costs of processing the rape kits.