Federal Government Response
The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) estimates there are 20,000 untested rape kits sitting in police storage facilities across the state, according to a January, 3, 2013 article in The New York Times.
In 2011, the Texas state legislature passed a bill requiring law enforcement agencies to count the untested kits in their evidence rooms and report their numbers to DPS. Despite an October 2011 deadline, few agencies complied with the reporting requirement.
To date, approximately 130 of more than 2,600 police agencies have submitted their backlog numbers, including many of the biggest agencies. Among the reporting agencies, there are 15,900 untested rape kits. Based on that number, DPS estimates there to be roughly 20,000 untested kits statewide.
To clear a backlog of that size, DPS believes it will cost between $7 million and $11 million. When the state legislature meets for its 2013 session, it will discuss how to pay for testing. State officials are hopeful that the U.S. Congress will pass the Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Registry (SAFER) Act, which would create a national registry for rape kit evidence and amend current law to require a greater percentage of Debbie Smith Act grant funds be spent directly on analyzing untested DNA evidence. The More >
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.”
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 >
FBI Director Robert Mueller has announced that the agency will update its definition of rape, taking effect in the spring of 2012. The FBI currently defines rape as the “carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will.” As we have noted before, experts consider this definition to be too narrow, and it leads to the under-reporting of thousands of sexual assaults across the U.S. each year.
An FBI advisory board voted on December 6 to expand the definition of rape and sent the final decision on to Director Mueller. While testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Mueller explained his support for updating the definition:
“That definition was in some ways unworkable, certainly not applicable—fully applicable—to the types of crimes that it should cover.”
The new definition states that rape is “penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.” In updating its terminology, the FBI removed the requirement that a rape involve force and expanded its reach beyond only female victims.
The updated definition of rape will allow local law enforcement agencies to report more sexual assaults to the federal More >
During a 2010 audit of the Detroit crime lab, which was shut down in 2008 due to testing irregularities, officials discovered approximately 11,000 untested rape kits in Detroit storage facilities. Following the discovery, a collaborative team of law enforcement officials, prosecutors, researchers and victim advocates came together to work toward eliminating the backlog.
With a grant from the federal government’s Office on Violence Against Women, the team created the “400 Project” to test 400 randomly selected kits from the backlog in order to determine the nature of the evidence and what kinds of cases are connected to the backlog. Among the 400 tested kits was a fourteen-year-old kit containing DNA evidence linking Antonio Jackson, now 38 years old, to the 1997 home invasion and rape of a woman at gunpoint. It is alleged that Jackson broke into the victim’s home at 3:50 a.m. on February 17, 1997, held her at gunpoint and raped her while her children slept in the same bed. He now faces charges of first degree criminal sexual conduct and home invasion and felony firearm charges.
The 400 Project is the first phase in a multi-phase approach to eliminating Detroit’s backlog. Detroit is one of two cities participating in a grant More >