Bill Introduced to Improve DNA Evidence Collection for Sexual Assault Cases
The Debbie Smith Act, a bill requiring that health officials test rape victim DNA samples within 10 days of receipt, has been introduced in the House and Senate. Sponsored by Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) in the House and Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) in the Senate, the bill seeks $210 million in federal funds over three years. Areas targeted for funding include: 1) comprehensive training of hospital examiners working with rape victims and 2) standardization and facilitation of DNA evidence collection and testing. Debbie Smith, for whom the bill is named, is a Virginia woman who was raped in 1989. Her collected DNA samples sat on laboratory shelves, untested for six years. Consequently, her attacker remained free until DNA evidence helped imprison him in 1995.
According to Congresswoman Maloney, the Debbie Smith Act highlights several system deficiencies regarding sexual assault crimes. First, “the failure to process DNA evidence quickly and correctly has left thousands of victims without justice. For example, in New York City alone, we have the potential to resolve 16,000 unsolved rape cases if we could just process the 18 month backlog of DNA evidence.” Prompt testing is particularly critical since rapists roam free in the meantime. Not only does this scenario add anxiety to the victim, but others also remain at risk. The average rapist commits 8 to 12 sexual assaults.
Speaking last week at the National Center for Women and Policing Conference held in Washington DC, Congresswoman Maloney presented additional statistics to over 400 of the nation’s top law enforcement women. Less than ten percent of New York City hospitals are adequately equipped for DNA evidence collection. In instances where DNA evidence is used in court, one in five cases are inadmissible due to improper collection technique. By contrast, law enforcement officials in Australia have no backlog of DNA evidence. Through the Debbie Smith Act, federal funds would be directed to help eliminate testing backlog, enable prompt and accurate testing of evidence, and train professionals in proper sample collection.
8/28/2015 Alaska Court Protects Abortion Access for Low-Income Women - The Alaska Superior Court struck down a state law yesterday that would have severely limited abortion access for low-income women in Alaska.
The state's Superior Court also struck down a Department of Health and Social Services regulation that placed narrow specifications on Medicaid coverage for abortions, requiring that Medicaid-funded abortions be determined by a physician to be "medically necessary." Last year, the Center for Reproductive Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Planned Parenthood sued on behalf of the Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest, claiming that the narrow definition of "medically necessary" arbitrarily established conditions designed to restrict the ability of low-income women to access abortion services.
The law was temporarily blocked last July by an Alaskan state court judge.
Superior Court Judge John Suddock ordered yesterday that the state be blocked from implementing this regulation, ruling that it placed an undue burden on low-income women seeking abortion services in Alaska.
"By providing health care to all poor Alaskans except women who need abortions, the challenged regulation violates the state constitutional guarantee of 'equal rights, opportunities, and protection under the law'," the ruling read.
"We applaud the superior court for striing down these cruel restrictions on women's health and rights that violate the Alaska Constitution," said Chris Charbonneau, CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands. . . .
8/26/2015 Saudi Women Prepare to Vote for the First Time - The fight for gender equality is making slow but notable progress in Saudi Arabia, where women will be allowed to vote for the first time in upcoming December elections.
This shift in Saudi law came in 2011, when a royal decree announced that women would be allowed to vote and run in local elections beginning in December of 2015. . . .