On Thursday, Senator Cornyn (R-Texas) and Senator Feinstein (R-California) introduced the Debbie Smith Act of 2019, a bill that would reauthorize funding aimed at increasing capacity for DNA testing to reduce the rape kit backlog. The Debbie Smith Reauthorization Act was first signed into law in 2004 in response to the story of Debbie Smith, a rape victim who only saw justice because of DNA evidence and testing.
Last July, CWALAC CEO and President Penny Nance testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on her experience as an attempted rape victim and why we must work to end the backlog. Unfortunately, after fifteen years since the inception of the Debbie Smith Act and over $1 billion spent, an unknown number of rape kits still sit untested in evidence rooms across the country. Meanwhile, the statute of limitations ticks on with no resolution for victims.
CWALAC partnered with RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network) on specific improvements to the Debbie Smith Act, introduced by Sen. Cornyn, that would increase prioritization of rape kit testing and improve accountability in tracking the backlog of sexual assault cases. A recent New York Times piece highlighted Maisha Sudbeck, a rape victim who saw justice years after her assault only because of funds prioritized through programs to clear the backlog. Ms. Sudbeck cited the testing of her rape kit as “a catalyst for hope.”
Not only is testing these kits a crucial step in pursuing justice for victims and possible exoneration for the wrongfully accused, it often shows patterns of assault and can take serial perpetrators off the street. Ms. Sudbeck’s kit showed a hit for a man who had raped at least six other women. This phenomenon is far from uncommon. One study found that about half of the DNA kits tested resulted in hits for serial offenders. In her Senate Judiciary testimony, Penny stated, “We must push ourselves until each sexual assault kit is accounted for and every last one is processed — because every kit represents a brave woman waiting for justice.” CWALAC will continue to work with Congress to ensure this crucial legislation is passed, so that every victim has the chance for justice.