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
10/31/2014 Federal Judge Exempts Another Catholic University from Birth Control Coverage - A federal judge ruled Tuesday that Ave Maria University, a Catholic university in Florida, does not have to comply with federal rules meant to ensure that covered employees can exercise their right to obtain birth control at no cost.
The Affordable Care Act requires all new health insurance plans to cover all FDA-approved contraceptives - such as the pill, emergency contraceptives, and IUDs - without charging co-pays, deductibles or co-insurance. . . .
10/31/2014 Women of Color in Tennessee Are United in Opposition to Amendment 1 - Just days before the general election in Tennessee, a coalition of community leaders, clergy, and advocates led a press conference encouraging women of color to vote no on Amendment 1, a dangerous and far-reaching measure on the state's ballot.
SisterReach, a grassroots organization focused on "empowering, organizing, and mobilizing women and girls in the community around their reproductive and sexual health to make informed decisions about themselves," organized the press conference "to call attention to the unique concerns Black and poor communities throughout Shelby County and across the state of Tennessee face on a daily basis" and to emphasize how the upcoming election "could further limit [black women's] reproductive, economic, political, and social autonomy."
"We assemble today to impress upon black women and women of color, many of whom are heads of households, to get out and vote," said SisterReacher Founder and CEO Cherisse Scott at the event.
SisterReach has been educating voters about the particularly dangerous impact of Amendment 1 on women of color. . . .
10/30/2014 Medication Abortion Access Threatened by Oklahoma Court Ruling - An Oklahoma state district court judge has refused to block a state law restricting medication abortion, clearing the way for the law to go into affect on November 1.
The Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice, together with a local abortion clinic in Tulsa, challenged HB 2684 in September, arguing that the law was an unconstitutional restriction on non-surgical abortion in the earliest weeks of pregnancy. . . .