Critical evidence from the attack on Lavinia B. Masters, a member of RAINN’s speakers bureau, sat on a shelf for over two decades before it was tested. In the meantime, the rapist had struck again, attacking several more women.
When she was 13 years old, Lavinia was raped at knife-point by a home intruder with her parents sleeping upstairs and her siblings in the same room. The Masters family immediately notified the police and went to a hospital in Dallas, Texas, where a forensic medical exam was performed on Lavinia and DNA evidence was collected in a rape kit.
More than two decades later, still with no word about her attacker or an update on the status of her rape kit, Lavinia saw a TV commercial noting that the Dallas Police Department was starting an initiative to clear out backlogged rape kits. She immediately called in.
According to the police, it took between two and three months to find Lavinia’s rape kit among the many others and another five to six months to get a DNA match for the perpetrator. She learned that her attacker was already in jail for other crimes he had committed. However, because of the statute of limitations, Lavinia was not able to press charges.
Although she was devastated, this prompted Lavinia to take action. She has become actively involved in supporting and promoting federal legislation that will provide victims the justice they deserve. Nationwide there are as many as 400,000 cases like Lavinia’s — evidence from unsolved rape cases that has never been sent to the lab for analysis. Until this evidence is tested and the rapists are identified, those criminals remain free to attack more victims.
Lavinia supports The SAFER Act, which is an essential piece of legislation that will help to eliminate the DNA backlog and put criminals behind bars. The SAFER Act creates the Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Registry (SAFER), which will track the status of DNA evidence collected in rape cases (commonly known as rape kits). Law enforcement officials will audit their own backlogs and will log information on each rape case into SAFER, giving a real time view of evidence that has not been tested. SAFER will bring transparency to the DNA rape kit testing process, help us efficiently target resources to cities that have the biggest backlogs, and empower the communities with information about the rape kit testing status in their area. It will help eliminate the evidence backlog and take thousands of rapists off the streets.