New SAFER Act Will Help End DNA Backlog and Track and Improve Use of DNA Evidence in Rape Cases
RAINN Supports Critical Legislation Introduced in Congress, Praises New Transparency for Victims
August 11, 2010 – (Washington, DC) – RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, today announced its strong support for the Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Registry (SAFER) Act [HR 6085]. The SAFER Act will help end the backlog of untested DNA evidence by providing crucial data on the number of unsolved rapes cases awaiting testing and establishing better standards for the tracking, storage and use of DNA evidence in sexual assault cases. The SAFER Act also provides a crucial new right to rape victims: it allows them to track forensic evidence in their own case online, anytime.
The SAFER Act, introduced by Reps. Caroline Maloney (D-NY) and Ted Poe (R-TX), updates the Debbie Smith Act, widely considered the most important anti-rape legislation ever passed by Congress. It establishes SAFER, the Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Registry, to track the status of DNA evidence. Law enforcement will log up-to-date information on each rape case into SAFER, giving the public a real-time view of evidence that has not yet been tested, by state and city or county. The registry will not contain any personally identifying information about victims, but victims will be able to track the status of their own case through a unique ID number.
According to Scott Berkowitz, president and founder of RAINN, “The SAFER Act is the vital next step in our efforts to eliminate the backlog of untested DNA evidence. This bill will help us shine a light on the remaining backlog, and give victims online access to updates on the status of their case. It will also let the public see the backlog in their area. Ultimately, it will lead to testing more DNA evidence and taking more rapists off our streets." He added: “It’s no surprise that the lead sponsors of the SAFER Act are two people who often lead Congressional efforts to fight rape and help victims: Rep. Carolyn Maloney, who authored the Debbie Smith Act, and Rep. Ted Poe, founder and co-chair of the Congressional Victims Rights Caucus.”
“Reports of rape-kit processing backlogs have occurred across the country, despite substantial funding for processing of DNA samples available from the Department of Justice under the Debbie Smith Act,” Rep. Maloney said. “The reality is that rape kits and other DNA samples are not getting processed fast enough in too many places. It’s not like ‘CSI’ where DNA samples are tested within hours of the crime. The provisions of this bill will help address that. With this legislation, we can obtain the data needed to accurately track whether a backlog exists and how bad it is —and bring the power of web-based transparency to local law enforcement. Citizens and rape victims will be able to see with a few clicks the full contours of local DNA processing status. It’s ‘Government 2.0’ applied to this most heinous of crimes: rape.”
“The SAFER Act allows us to get a handle on the size and scope of backlogs that exist throughout this country and bring transparency to the testing process,” said Rep. Poe. “Law enforcement agencies cannot process kits fast enough, and as a result, rapists are walking free. Through the creation of a national registry, law enforcement, citizens and crime victims alike will be able to track rape kits through the testing process. Justice requires diligence and it is my hope that this legislation will increase the efforts of law enforcement divisions throughout the country as they seek to serve their communities and apprehend, and convict, those who commit these despicable crimes.”
The SAFER Act will enable police to apprehend rapists sooner through more efficient DNA testing, as well as provide victims with the transparency they deserve. Joanie Stewart, a member of RAINN’s Speakers Bureau, is one person who would have been helped by SAFER. In 1991, she was brutally raped, beaten, and nearly strangled on Easter morning. Through DNA evidence testing, Joanie’s attacker was identified 18 years later. After raping Joanie, her perpetrator went on to rape at least one other woman, in 2001. The forensic evidence from the 2001 attack was not tested until 2009. Had the SAFE kit been tested sooner, Joanie’s case would have been solved years earlier, preventing at least one other sexual assault.
Joanie supports the SAFER Act and believes that had a web-based registry existed earlier, it would have given her access to vital information when she needed it most: “Knowledge is power. Having information on the status of the forensic evidence will empower victims to become their own best advocates and regain faith in the system,” said Joanie. “Information is armor and gives courage to victims to go forward and fight and for their truth to be heard. I would rather be afraid of what I know, than terrified of what I don't know.”
RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) is the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization and was named one of “America’s 100 Best Charities” by Worth magazine. RAINN created and operates the National Sexual Assault Hotlines (800.656.HOPE and online.rainn.org) in partnership with more than 1,100 local rape crisis centers across the country. The hotlines have helped more than 1.4 million people since 1994. RAINN also carries out programs to prevent sexual assault, help victims and ensure that rapists are brought to justice. For more information about RAINN, please visit rainn.org.