While much of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s focus will turn to the confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, other important legislative business remains on its agenda, including the reauthorization of the Debbie Smith Act. In 2004, Congress passed the Debbie Smith Act, named for a victim of a violent sexual assault, to increase the capacity of states to analyze sexual assault kits and help eliminate the backlog of untested kits that delay justice for victims of rape.
After nearly 15 years and over a billion dollars later, eliminating the backlog is far from resolved, and the National Institute of Justice cannot even quantify the extent of the problem. Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee (CWALAC) is insisting that improvements be made to ensure Debbie Smith grant program funds be used to account for the full extent of the backlog problem and prioritize testing of sexual assault kits over other DNA analysis.
The need for such a priority in our criminal justice system is greater than ever. According to the Center for Disease Control National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 21.3 percent of women reported being raped in their lifetime, and the problem is only increasing. In 2010 1.3 million women reported being raped; in 2015 that number rose to 1.5 million.
During a recent Senate Judiciary Committee, rape victim, Amanda Nguyen, shared the chilling reality of how forensic evidence is collected following a rape: “Most people don’t know this, but rape kit examinations last three to seven hours; mine was six hours long,” recounted Ms. Nguyen, founder of Rise, “That’s because your body, my body, was the crime scene.”
CWALAC is seeking justice for victims of rape and sexual assault by calling on Congress to prioritize analysis of sexual assault kits and fully account for the backlog of rape kits sitting on shelves in law enforcement offices and crime labs across the country.