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NATIONAL | FALL 2009

What a Difference a Tested Rape Kit Can Make

By Nina Boutsikaris

Yesterday, 20 U.S. House members, including Rep. Carolyn B Maloney (D-N.Y.)—creator of the 2004 Debbie Smith Act, meant to authorize funds to begin processing the national DNA backlog—introduced H.R. 4114, the “Justice for Survivors of Sexual Assault Act of 2009.”

This urgently needed legislation would help reduce the national backlog of more than 180,000 untested rape kits by creating incentives for jurisdictions to eliminate and process their rape kits in a timely manner, while making their progress reports public. The bill also aims to address several other factors that deny justice to victims of sexual assault, such as denial of free rape kits and a shortage of trained professionals capable of administering the DNA exam.

Since Ms.’s first report on the backlog crisis in Los Angeles (“Rape Kits in Cold Storage,”) last winter, more disturbing national numbers of neglected evidence against rapists have been exposed. According to a recent CBS-TV investigation, at least 12 major cities across the country have no idea how many untested kits are in their police storage. The new bill would change that.

When Los Angeles finally began to eliminate its massive backlog (“The Testing Has Begun,” Ms., fall 2009) the valuable results quickly became clear. Evidence was matched up with old cases and several criminals were brought to trial. This is true everywhere where testing has been taken seriously. In Minneapolis, when 35 kits were tested this year, a case from 1998 matched DNA from a 2007 case, and DNA matches brought about leads for eight charges of rape in total. In New York, where there is no longer a backlog, the arrest rate for rapists is three times the national rate.

“Every two minutes someone is sexually assaulted somewhere in the United States. DNA evidence doesn’t forget and it cannot be intimidated,” said Rep Maloney. “By processing this evidence, we can prevent rapists from attacking more innocent victims and ensure that the survivors and their families receive justice.”

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