Congress Prioritizes Victims’ Rights, Rape Kit Testing, and Exonerating the Innocent

Justice for All is an important bill that will help take rapists off the streets and help exonerate innocent people who are wrongly convicted of a crime. Tell Congress to Act Now

Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Reps. Ted Poe (R-TX) and Jim Costa (D-CA) have introduced the Justice for All Act of 2016 (JFAA), which will improve implementation of the Prison Rape Elimination Act, ensure that more DNA funding goes towards testing rape kits, and provide convicted criminals with the opportunity to use DNA testing to prove their innocence.

“Justice for All is an important bill that will help take rapists off the streets and help exonerate innocent people who are wrongly convicted of a crime. We are grateful for the leadership of the bill’s sponsors, and plan to do all we can to help pass it,” said Rebecca O’Connor, RAINN’s vice president for public policy.

Many states have been slow to implement the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), due to the cost and complexity of its requirements. Justice for All would improve PREA by helping states that are making good faith efforts to comply, and ensuring that they will not lose Violence Against Women Act grant funding that is critical to their crime prevention and victim support efforts.

Other provisions of JFAA include:

  • Renewing a program that provides post-conviction DNA testing
  • Directing more money towards testing rape kits by limiting the ability of the Justice Department to use DNA funding for other purposes
  • Renewing programs that provide legal assistance and notifications to victims
  • Clarifying current law to make clear that services for victims are an appropriate use of funding under the Victims of Crime Act

Said Senator Cornyn, “The Justice for All Act has increased law enforcement resources, protected the innocent from wrongful convictions, and helped deliver justice for victims across the country. Reauthorizing this important piece of legislation will continue to provide victims with the support necessary to restore their lives, and continue to give law enforcement the tools to put more criminals behind bars.”

Senator Leahy said, “As a former prosecutor, I have great faith in our criminal justice system and in the men and women who have dedicated their lives to making it work." “But we also know that our justice system is imperfect. Innocent people, like my friend Kirk Bloodsworth, are sometimes convicted, and even sentenced to death. Dozens of exonerations made possible by the Justice for All Act are testament enough to its value. It is past time for Congress to reauthorize this vital law to ensure that law enforcement and crime victims have the resources they need and that our justice system serves us all.”

“The 2004 Justice for All Act took a big step forward in increasing resources devoted to DNA and other forensic technology,” said Rep. Ted Poe. “As a former prosecutor and judge and co-chair of the Victims’ Rights Caucus, I have had personal experience working with victims of crime whose lives and families' lives have been torn apart. Reauthorizing JFA strengthens protections for victims, provides resources to law enforcement and crime labs, and protects the innocent.”

“From providing vital resources for forensic testing to reducing the rape kit backlog and improving the safety of our prisons, this bipartisan legislation supports victims of crime, law enforcement, and the courts,” said Rep. Costa. “Furthermore, as co-chair of the Congressional Victims’ Rights Caucus, ensuring that victims of crime have access to the assistance they need is among one of my top priorities, and that is why I strongly support provisions in the bill that would support victim services like national domestic violence hotlines and child advocacy services.”

Also this week, Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Leahy introduced S. 2566, the Sexual Assault Survivors Act. The bill seeks to codify basic rights for victims, such as the right to information about the result of rape kit testing.

“This common-sense bill will helps to ensure that no matter where in the country they happen to reside, survivors of sexual assault will have access to things like a clear summary of their rights in the criminal justice system and clear guidance as to when and how rape kit evidence will be preserved. Empowering survivors with this information serves the public interest in public safety — if we make it easier for even one victim to come forward and pursue justice, we’re doing something right,” says O’Connor.

A strong advocate for the bill is survivor and advocate Amanda Nguyen. After encountering challenges in navigating the criminal justice system, Amanda founded an organization called RISE, to advance survivors’ rights. RISE is also circulating a petition to urge support for the legislation. Nguyen characterized introduction of the bill as a “first step to having uniform basic rights for survivors across the country.”

Shaheen said, “Without a clear set of rights articulated in the law, it’s difficult for even the best law enforcement professionals to ensure that survivors receive fair, effective, consistent treatment, particularly across counties and states. We have to do better.”

Leahy echoed this, saying, “Too often, survivors of sexual assault feel abandoned by our criminal justice system… Survivors of sexual assault must be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.”

“Reporting sexual assault requires incredible courage,” said Blumenthal. “The system must be worthy of that bravery.”

Be part of the solution: Visit RAINN's Action Center and sign up to stay informed about RAINN’s work to eliminate the backlog of untested rape kits, as well as other key policy issues.