Rep. Maloney Announces Effort to Reduce Dangerous National Rape Kit Backlog

Jan 11, 2014
Press Release

New York, NYStanding with a courageous rape survivor, elected officials and activists, Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney (NY-12) today announced the next steps in her decade-long effort to eliminate the national rape-kit backlog, currently estimated at 400,000.  Listening to the harrowing tale of Natasha Alexenko, who was brutally raped in Manhattan and waited 15 years before her attacker was finally brought to justice, thanks to DNA evidence, Congresswoman Maloney reaffirmed her commitment to reducing the national backlog of rape kits by calling for the reauthorization of federal legislation that would provide funding for the processing of DNA evidence, that way medical examiner offices have the resources to process rape kits.

The National Institutes of Justice reports that a survey of more than 2,000 law enforcement agencies found that in 18 percent of unsolved sexual assaults that occurred from 2002-2007, forensic evidence had been collected but had not yet been submitted to a crime lab for analysis.  Congresswoman Maloney, who has successfully passed two bills to address the DNA backlog nationwide, is working on legislation to reauthorize the Justice for All Act and increase appropriations for medical examiner offices nationwide.

“New York benefits from the best Medical Examiner office in the world, but they can’t do their job if we don’t give them the resources they need,” said Congresswoman Maloney. “The Justice for All Act, which includes the Debbie Smith Act, has provided millions in federal funding to New York’s OCME for rape kit processing, but it is set to expire in 2014. When I return to Washington next week, I’ll begin drafting legislation to extend and strengthen this vital law. No rape survivor should have to wait years for his or her attacker to be brought to justice,” said Congresswoman Maloney.

“The man who violently raped and robbed me at gunpoint is now behind bars thanks to the incredible power of DNA processing.  The Justice For All Act will help keep our communities safe from harm and ensure justice is served fairly, swiftly and effectively for all of us,” said Natasha Alexenko, Founder and Spokesperson of Natasha’s Justice Project.

The elected officials and activists, many of whom attended today’s press conference in support of survivors like Natasha, and of Congresswoman Maloney’s efforts to increase federal funding for the processing of DNA evidence, had the following to say:

“This is one of many crucial federal programs that help municipalities and states across the nation protect public safety and deliver justice for crime victims. Increasing this funding and processing the backlogged evidence from rape and sexual assault cases is critical to catching violent predators before they strike again. It's common sense and smart policy,” said New York State Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan).

"Thank you to Congresswoman Maloney for leading the effort to increase funding for DNA evidence processing,” said New York State Sen. Brad Hoylman (D,WFP – Manhattan). “I hope Congress will heed our call to reauthorize this important piece of legislation to ensure that medical examiners here and across the country have the tools to process evidence for criminal cases quickly and accurately. Victims of rape, sexual assault, and other crimes have the right to the evidence they need to seek justice; anything less would be a strong neglect of responsibility.”

“After authoring laws cracking down on sexual predators and participating in countless neighborhood anti-sexual assault initiatives, I understand the need to equip our city with all tools necessary to bring sexual predators to justice. I join Congresswoman Maloney in calling for increased funding for DNA evidence processing, and I thank her for her tireless efforts and leadership on this issue,” said New York State Sen. Mike Gianaris (D-Queens).

“The services of the OCME are essential to taking criminals off of the streets and provide important peace of mind to victims and their families. Unfortunately, we have already seen the effects of inadequate funding for OCME, with processing times of DNA evidence for sexual assault cases increasing from 27 days to 46 days between 2011 and 2012. In order for the OCME to properly provide services, Congress must reauthorize federal legislation to fund the processing of DNA evidence in medical examiners' offices in states and localities around the country. Many thanks to Congresswoman Maloney for her tireless dedication on this very important issue,” said New York State Sen. José M. Serrano (D,WFP-Manhattan, Bronx).

“Survivors of rape and sexual assault deserve justice. A delay in the processing of DNA evidence from backlogged cases is unacceptable, as these survivors are left waiting and struggling to find closure from the trauma they experienced. Rep. Maloney's bill is essential to ensuring that medical examiner's offices here in New York City and across the country have the resources they need to bring swift justice to those responsible for these horrible crimes,” said Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Queens).

I’m proud to stand with Representative Maloney to call for the reauthorization of the Justice for All Act and more federal funding to process DNA evidence, a critical issue for survivors of sexual assault. No survivor should have to wait for justice because of delays in underfunded and understaffed city agencies,” said Assemblyman Dan Quart (D-Manhattan).

“The Debbie Smith Act has been important to helping law enforcement use the best science to effectively prosecute sex offenders and protect all of us,” said Assemblyman Richard N. Gottfried (D-Manhattan), chair of the Assembly Health Committee.

“In the past, there have been unconscionable delays in processing rape kits. It is essential to have sufficient funding in order to identify rapists and the patterns of sexual assault so women in New York can be safer,” said Assemblywoman Deborah Glick (D-Manhattan).

“I welcome today’s announcement by Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney and others calling for increased funding for DNA evidence processing of rape kits. DNA is one of the most powerful tools ever developed to solve and prevent crimes, to exonerate the innocent and to bring justice to victims of crime.  Aptly known as the fingerprint of the 21st century, DNA has proven to be extraordinarily effective in stopping serial rapists in their tracks – both in solving old crimes and preventing new ones. Recently, New York State passed an all crimes DNA bill to increase DNA collection and to ensure that the DNA samples of all convicted offenders are on file with the state. This statute will not be effective in reaching its goal if labs do not have the necessary resources to test DNA evidence found at crime scenes and in processing rape kits,” said Queens D.A. Richard Brown.

“Over the past several years we have seen what a remarkable difference DNA evidence can make in helping investigators solve crimes, and it would be foolish to undercut that important work now," said Council Member Dan Garodnick. "The work of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner is extremely important to keeping New Yorkers safe, so let's make sure it has the tools it needs to succeed. Thank you Congresswoman Maloney for pushing for more funding.”

“As DNA analysis in sexual assault cases becomes more widespread in New York City, we must ensure the Office of the Chief Medical Officer has the necessary resources to provide it. I join Congress Member Maloney in her advocacy to ensure city and state agencies receive the funding they need to help bring about justice,” said Council Member Ben Kallos.

“Additional funding for processing DNA evidence from sexual assault cases is critical,” said Council Member Helen Rosenthal, the newly elected City Council representative for Manhattan’s Upper West Side. “As a former New York City budget analyst for the Office of Chief Medical Examiner, I understand the importance of this funding to ensure the timely processing of these cases.”

“Because of this important legislation, women are safer throughout our country," said Sonia Ossorio, president of NOW-NYC. "After testing 11,000 rape kits, Detroit identified 46 serial rapists. This would not have happened without the Debbie Smith Act. Clearly, funding is critical. If we don't put the resources behind proven crime reduction efforts like this, we send a message that rape is not a crime worth convicting.”

“The reauthorization of Justice For All Act will continue to advance justice through DNA – which is directly in line with the mission of Natasha’s Justice Project – to eliminate the nation’s backlog of untested rape kits, thereby providing justice for survivors of sexual assault,” said  Karen Owen, Executive Director, Natasha’s Justice Project.

“The New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault supports Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney’s efforts to keep the processing of sexual assault forensic kits funded in the United States.  In 2003, the New York City Office of the Chief Medical Examiner was able to reduce its backlog with the concerted efforts of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, anti-rape advocates and the Congresswoman.  In light of New York State’s new DNA law which requires samples taken from those convicted of a crime, this DNA data-base is more important than ever in identifying and prosecuting sexual assault perpetrators,” said Mary Haviland, Executive Director of the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault.

Background


The “Debbie Smith Act” was signed into law in 2004 as part of “The Justice for All Act,” comprehensive legislation that ensured that DNA evidence could be used to convict the guilty and free the innocent.  Since then, millions of dollars of federal funding have been appropriated under the Debbie Smith DNA Backlog Grant Program to process the thousands of unprocessed DNA evidence kits - including rape kits - across the country. Maloney later passed The Debbie Smith Reauthorization Act of 2008, legislation that extended the program through FY 2014. The Justice for All Act, provided $151 million annually, from fiscal year 2009-2014, to states and localities to process DNA evidence.

In 2013, language Congresswoman Maloney authored to require that 75 percent of Debbie Smith Act funds be used to process the backlog of untested rape kits, was included in the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act that was signed into law. The language mirrored the Sexual Assault Forensic Reporting Act (SAFER Act, H.R. 354) Maloney cosponsored with Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX). The law is also providing grants to conduct audits of unprocessed kits so that the backlog of hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits sitting in labs across the country can be tracked. 

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