US Senator Al Franken (D-MN) introduced a bill late last week that will address the national backlog of untested rape kits. The "Justice for Survivors of Sexual Assault Act" was co-sponsored by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and Orrin Hatch (R-UT), according to the Minnesota Independent.
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, and a backlog of 10,000 untested rape kits in Detroit. 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.
"These backlogs have serious consequences for law enforcement and public safety," Franken said in a press release. "We just learned of a case where a rapist struck both a pregnant woman and a minor while the rape kit for one of his earlier victims sat unprocessed at a crime lab. It takes about a week to process a DNA evidence sample and there is no reason that every rape kit completed should not be tested in a timely manner."
If passed, the act would require that states pay the cost of rape kit examinations upfront, that survivors are informed of their right to a free rape kit examination, and creates monetary incentives to reduce rape kit backlogs, process rape kits quickly, and report backlog numbers. It also creates a nation-wide annual reporting mechanism for rape kit backlogs, funds the training of sexual assault forensic medical personnel, and defines "trained examiner" in a way that will allow rural and tribal areas, where incidence of rape is disproportionately high, to access grant funds.
Media Resources: The Minnesota Independent 11/6/09; Human Rights Watch News 11/5/09; Orrin G. Hatch Press Release 11/5/09