Lawmakers Signal They Won't Back Down on the Rape Kit Backlog

The House of Representatives this week agreed to increase funding for community-based responses to rape, and also called for changes to ensure that the promise of the Debbie Smith Act and SAFER Act are fulfilled by giving law enforcement and crime labs the resources they need to count and test their backlogged rape kits.

While considering the appropriations bill for the Justice Department, the House passed an amendment by Reps. Steve Cohen (D-TN) and Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) that adds $4 million in funding for communities to implement coordinated responses during rape investigations. To pay for the additional spending, the amendment reduced the budget for the Drug Enforcement Agency by the same amount.

Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) introduced an amendment to require that the Department of Justice (DOJ) fully comply with the Debbie Smith Act and SAFER Act, which direct that at least 75% of DNA spending go towards testing DNA evidence (primarily from rape cases) and making sure crime labs have the capacity to meet demand. Poe’s amendment would also require that DOJ spend at least 5% of DNA funding to assist law enforcement agencies audit and track their untested rape kits, as required by federal law.

Said Poe, "Congress, in the last several sessions, has done an admirable job of dealing with this crime of sexual assault... This amendment just tells the Justice Department to follow previous law."

Rep. John Culberson (R-TX), chairman of the Appropriation Committee's Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies, expressed strong support for the amendment (which was ultimately withdrawn on a technical basis) "I strongly agree with the gentleman's amendment," Culberson said, "and I intend to work with him as we move through conference to ... make sure the law is complied with." The subcommittee's ranking member, Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA), echoed support for the proposal and noted that "we don't want innocent people incarcerated for the crimes that they do not commit."

Said Rebecca O'Connor, RAINN's vice president for public policy: "Yesterday's floor discussion and vote help to validate the courageous decision of thousands of victims to submit to an hours-long sexual assault forensic medical examination. It also puts sexual predators on notice: Congress remains committed to ensuring every kit is counted and processed and that serial criminals are held accountable. We are committed to working with leaders in the House, Senate and administration to fulfill the promises of these programs and provide victims answers and justice."

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