Rep. Maloney, District Attorneys, rape survivors hail extension of federal anti-rape funds, call for elimination of DNA rape kit backlog
NEW YORK – Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney today announced that the President has just signed into law an extension of the Debbie Smith Act, a bill she authored which became law in 2004 and has provided hundreds of millions of dollars to address the nationwide rape kit DNA analysis backlog. Maloney was joined by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, King’s County District Attorney Kenneth Thompson, Ilse Knecht, Director DNA Resource at the National Center for Victims of Crime and Natasha Alexenko, a survivor of sexual assault, to discuss the importance of the legislation and need for a coordinated national effort to eliminate the rape kit analysis backlog.
“By extending this law for another five years, we are providing local crime labs across the country with the funds they need to work through their DNA backlogs,” said Maloney. “Some estimate that there are as many as 400,000 rape kits that have gone untested. Each time we convict a rapist using DNA evidence, we can protect countless other women from repeat sexual offenders. I am deeply concerned that far too many kits go years before they are tested. We need to eliminate that window and eliminate the possibility that a rapist is walking our streets while the evidence needed to convict him collects dust in a storage room.”
The original Debbie Smith Act, which has been called the most important anti-rape legislation ever signed into law, was first introduced by Maloney in 2001 and signed into law in 2004 as part of the Justice for All Act. Since that time the legislation has provided millions of dollars to state and local law enforcement agencies for DNA analysis of untested rape kits.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said, “Each and every untested rape kit represents a possible unsolved crime. Such crucial components to a successful prosecution – or exoneration – must not be ignored. I commend Congresswoman Maloney for her work towards the reauthorization of the Debbie Smith Act, which will help other jurisdictions use these critical tools to seek justice for victims. New York City has long been a leader in DNA testing, and my Office’s Sex Crimes Unit, working with the NYPD, has been instrumental in eliminating our rape kit backlog. We know that DNA evidence may not only help solve a crime, but may lead us to crimes a defendant committed in the past, possibly preventing them from committing crimes in the future.”
Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown said, “I commend Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney for her leadership in getting the Debbie Smith Act reauthorized. Sexual assaults are devastating, life-altering crimes and we owe it to the victims of these heinous crimes to test sexual assault evidence kits in a timely manner. New York City was fortunate to have been able to tackle its backlogged sexual assault kits between 2000 and 2004, and hundreds of offenders were brought to justice as a result. Today, though, DNA testing of evidence is critical in not only sexual assaults, but also in homicides, robberies, physical assaults and property crimes. Funding from the Debbie Smith Act will help the New York City lab and others throughout the state and country to eliminate backlogs and to keep up with the daily influx of new cases, and for that I thank Rep. Maloney. Her work to get this legislation reauthorized will surely mean that more survivors of violent crime will see justice done.”
Kings County District Attorney Kenneth P. Thompson said, “Very often in sexual assault cases, forensic evidence is the crux of the case. This federal funding will help to combat the lack of staffing and resources, prevent a serious backlog and allow us to get swift justice for survivors of sex crimes.”
The legislation is designed to help sexual assault survivors like Debbie Smith and Natasha Alexenko who waited years for DNA analysis of their rape kits, which ultimately brought their attackers to justice.
Natasha Alexenko, founder of Natasha’s Justice Project said, “My rape kit sat on a shelf for 9 ½ years collecting dust while the man that raped and robbed me went on a nationwide crime-spree. Thanks to the dedication of lawmakers, prosecutors and law enforcement officials, my kit was finally tested and my assailant was charged and convicted. He is no longer a danger to society. Lawmakers like Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney who continue to push for legislation to end the backlog of rape kits need to be commended and supported for their tireless efforts to create safer communities and bring justice to survivors of sexual assault. I find hope and inspiration in Congresswoman Maloney’s dedication.”
Scott Berkowitz, president and founder of RAINN said, "We applaud the Senate's vote to renew the Debbie Smith Act, the nation's key tool to eliminate the backlog of rape kits that haven’t been tested for DNA. This will help crime labs test evidence from thousands of open rape cases, and will aid efforts to bring many rapists to justice. It will also support the implementation of the Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Registry (SAFER) Act, which will help law enforcement locate and test rape kits that have not yet been sent to a lab for testing. We are grateful to the leadership of Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX), Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Reps. Ted Poe (R-TX) and Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), and the tireless advocacy of Debbie Smith and other champions of this vital program.”
Maloney announced her efforts at reauthorization at a press conference at New York City Hall in January. The legislation cleared the House in April and passed the Senate in September. The President is expected to sign the legislation in the coming days.
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.
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 led 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.