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Senate Committee Examines Rape Kit Backlog

On May 20, the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on The Constitution held a hearing, “Taking Sexual Assault Seriously: The Rape Kit Backlog and Human Rights.

“For too long, survivors of sexual assault, the vast majority of them women, have been ignored or disbelieved. They have been told they must have done something wrong – they walked down the wrong street, sent mixed signals, or just feel regret. This attitude is offensive and unacceptable – at its base it suggests a lingering belief that women do not fully own their own bodies or decide their own actions. When we let these rape kits languish for years on lab shelves, when we treat crimes of rape with less urgency, it reinforces the terrible message that these are second-class crimes. Each of these kits represents a devastated, traumatized survivor, and we owe it to them to find their offenders and to hold them accountable,” stated Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-VT).

Lisa Madigan, Illinois attorney general stated, “In 2010, Human Rights Watch discovered that tens of thousands of sexual assault kits were stored in police stations nationwide, untested. The untested kits had been gathering dust for years. Many kits had been completed more recently but never sent to a lab for DNA testing.” Ms. Madigan offered several recommendations to address the backlog: “[S]tates should adopt a law or implement a statewide protocol that requires all DNA to be submitted to a crime lab for testing once it is collected in a timely manner…[A]ll police departments must comply with those laws…[S]tates should implement tracking systems to improve accountability and satisfy chain of custody concerns…[F]orensic labs need sufficient funding and resources to test the evidence they receive…[F]orensic labs must look at their systems and improve efficiency…[W]e must increase access to Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners who are trained on how to properly collect evidence and respond appropriately to the victim…[and W]e must improve and increase training for law enforcement and prosecutors.”

The following witnesses also testified during the hearing:

  • Debbie Smith, sexual assault survivor, founder, Hope Exists After Rape Trauma;
  • Scott Berkowitz, founder and president, Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network;
  • Skylor Hearn, assistant director, Texas Department of Public Safety; and
  • Sarah Haacke Byrd, managing director, Joyful Heart Foundation.
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