The Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Registry (SAFER) Act received unanimous support and passed out of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee last week. The bipartisan bill would provide state and local governments with funding to conduct one-year audits of the untested sexual assault evidence in their possession and create a national registry to help track those audits. The SAFER Act would also amend current law to require that a greater percentage of Debbi Smith Act grant money is spent directly on analyzing untested DNA evidence.
After the bill passed out of the Judiciary Committee, Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) said:
“Victims of sexual assault have already gone through enough. They shouldn’t have to wait unnecessarily for justice. Today’s passage of the SAFER Act in the Judiciary Committee brings us closer to helping local law enforcement reduce backlogs of rape kits and bring criminals to justice. This bill will support those efforts and enable these agencies to stay on top of their work.”
Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) added:
“Today we took a large step toward ensuring justice for victims of sexual assault. I’m encouraged by the bipartisan support the SAFER Act received in the Judiciary Committee and look forward to a vote on the Senate floor.”
As officials in Detroit, Michigan are beginning to test rape kits that have been sitting in police and crime lab storage facilities—some for decades—DNA evidence has already linked to multiple possible perpetrators. The Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office has identified 21 potential serial rapists from the first 153 kits that the crime lab tested and entered into CODIS, the national DNA database, according to news reports.
These kits are part of an initial wave of 200 kits that have been sent for testing under the National Institute of Justice’s grant to address Detroit’s backlog of over 11,000 untested rape kits. The DNA evidence in these 21 cases matched to the DNA profiles of suspected offenders involved in at least one other rape case, according to ClickOn Detroit. In some cases, the evidence matched to the DNA in up to five other cases, according to the article.
Testing a rape kit can identify a potential assailant, confirm a suspect’s contact with a victim, corroborate the victim’s account of the sexual assault and exonerate innocent defendants. And of course, testing rape kits can connect suspects to other crimes.
In addition to identifying the possible serial rapists, the DNA evidence in the batch of 153 kits has yielded More >
Along with other survivor advocacy organizations, including the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence (NAESV), the National Organization for Victim Assistance (NOVA), Healing Exists After Rape Trauma (HEART) and the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault (TAASA), Joyful Heart supports the Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Registry Act of 2012 (SAFER Act), S.3250. The SAFER Act, sponsored by Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), will help state and local law enforcement agencies to end both crime lab and police storage rape kit backlogs by:
- Increasing the percentage of Debbie Smith Act grant funds that must be spent on analyzing untested crime scene evidence;
- Providing state and local governments with funding to conduct one-year audits of the untested sexual assault evidence in their possession;
- Creating a national database maintained by the Department of Justice (DOJ) to track those audits, and
- Requiring greater tracking of how Debbie Smith Act grant funds are spent.
The SAFER Act amends the Debbie Smith Act, which provides federal grants to eligible states and local governments to conduct analyses of backlogged DNA evidence. Joyful Heart encourages Congress to pass the SAFER Act because it addresses several concerns we have about the current version of the Debbie Smith Act.
The SAFER More >
Joyful Heart was honored to join Governor Cuomo in Albany on Monday as he signed the bill expanding New York State’s DNA Databank into law. The bill makes New York the first state in the nation to require DNA samples from anyone convicted of a felony or Penal Law misdemeanor. The new law also expands defendants’ access to DNA testing both before trial and after a conviction based on a guilty plea when appropriate. In other limited circumstances, defendants will now be able to seek discovery of property and other materials to demonstrate their actual innocence after conviction.
At the bill signing ceremony, Governor Cuomo praised New York’s legislative leaders for reaching a compromise that would ensure that the State’s dual goals of safety and fairness are met. He said to the audience, which included members of law enforcement, district attorneys, survivors and advocates from across the state:
“I am proud to sign this bill today because this modern law enforcement tool will not only help us solve and prevent crimes but also exonerate the innocent. The bottom line is that this is a tool that works and will make the state safer for all New Yorkers.”
Ann M., the mother of a More >
Since New York established its DNA Databank in 1996, law enforcement agencies from across the state have solved thousands of crimes—including more than 3,300 sexual assaults and 800 murders. After the state legislature expanded the Databank in 2006 to include certain misdemeanors, police solved 53 murders and 223 sexual assaults using DNA samples from petit larceny convictions alone.
The Databank currently captures offender DNA profiles for only 46% of crimes. Governor Cuomo has proposed expanding the Databank to include samples from offenders convicted of all felonies and all penal law misdemeanors. The Senate passed the proposal in January with overwhelming bipartisan support, but it is now stalled in the Assembly.
Expanding the Databank will solve and prevent crimes. It will allow more survivors of violent crimes to see their perpetrators brought to justice. Listen to the powerful story of Ann M., whose twelve-year-old daughter was sexually assaulted in their home. DNA evidence eventually led to the conviction of the attacker, but not until a decade later—when petit larceny became a qualifying offense for DNA collection.
Like Ann, too many survivors and their families wait years for justice and the healing it can bring. While they wait, their perpetrators remain free to commit other More >