Rape Kit Law at Risk of Expiring Unless Congress Acts

The federal law that helps state crime labs test tens of thousands of rape kits every year, the Debbie Smith Act, will expire this fall unless Congress acts to renew it.

“We won't let that happen,” says Camille Cooper, RAINN’s vice president for policy. “RAINN’s entire policy team is focused on reauthorizing the law, and we’re working closely with our Congressional champions to make sure it passes.”

Originally passed in 2004, the law is named after Debbie Smith, a Virginia woman who was abducted from her home and sexually assaulted in the woods behind her house. Smith waited for almost six years for the DNA from her rape kit to find a match in CODIS, the FBI's DNA database.

Since 2005, there have been more than 455,000 matches of crime scene evidence to offenders’ DNA. Of these matches, 42 percent—more than four out of every 10—are the result of testing made possible by Debbie Smith Act grants.

RAINN’s president, Scott Berkowitz, and Debbie Smith testified together at a Capitol Hill briefing in April. In May, the US Senate voted to reauthorize the law. It now awaits action by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives.

Separately, Congress is in the middle of its annual appropriations process. “There’s been a large increase in demand for DNA testing, and so we’ve been lobbying to increase funding for testing,” says Cooper. “We’re grateful that the House Appropriations Committee has voted to increase DNA funding to $142 million next year, with $100 million of that dedicated to the backlog.”

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