Federal Government Response
In 2004, Congress passed the Debbie Smith Act, a law which provides crime laboratories with resources needed to reduce DNA backlogs, including rape kit backlogs. The same law provided additional resources for sexual assault nurse examiner training. In 2005, the Violence Against Women Act was amended to prohibit states from charging rape victims for the cost of the collection of their rape kit; it also prohibited states from withholding the administration of a rape kit exam until a victim agreed to cooperate with the police.
Despite these important advances, the rape kit backlog remains. While the federal government has provided support and assistance in eliminating rape kit backlogs, there is currently no federal requirement that states track their rape kit data, test their rape kits, or inform victims of the status of their rape kits.
There are a number of federal proposals for rape kit reform, including proposal to better track rape kit evidence, fund audits for law enforcement to count their kits, provide more oversight of the Debbie Smith grant program, authorize the Department of Justice to come up with best practices to reduce the backlog, and require Debbie Smith grantees to track rape kit data and submit it to the federal government. To review proposed legislation, visit our Media Archive.
As Congress moves towards rape kit reform, additional entities of the federal government, including the White House Special Advisor on Violence Against Women, the Department of Justice, the Office on Violence Against Women, the National Institute of Justice, and others are actively involved in rape kit reform policies.
Any government reform should address these key points:
- Encourage law enforcement, after a victim has given her consent, to send in rape kits for testing.
- Give law enforcement the tools they need to investigate sexual assault cases.
- Provide our inundated crime labs with funding to build the capacity that will enable them to prevent backlogs.
- Provide better technology to track rape kit evidence from collection to testing.
- Enact stronger oversight of federal grant programs meant to eliminate the rape kit backlog.
- Engage in public awareness and education efforts to address attitudes and bias about rape victims.
- Create notification systems so victims are told the status of their rape kit, and their case.
While continued federal leadership is essential to solving the problem, the rape kit backlog requires state and local leadership as well.