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September 30, 2008

Joe Biden Feminism Watch: The Debbie Smith Act

Joe Biden Feminism Watch #2

Last week, the Senate passed the Debbie Smith Reauthorization Act of 2008. The original law, authored by Senator Biden, was set to expire next year. The law "standardizes the evidence collection of kits for sexual assaults, making it easier to enter the information into state and national databases" and provides funding to forensic labs to "process the DNA evidence and compare the DNA samples with those taken from criminals". From the statement released by Senator Biden:
It is estimated that 40 percent of the unsolved rape cases could be solved by taking the DNA sample collected after a sexual assault and comparing it to the existing DNA databases of convicted felons and rapists. The U.S. Department of Justice has estimated that there are at least 221,000 rape kits currently on the shelves in evidence lockers, untested and gathering dust. The Debbie Smith Grant Program has helped alleviate some of the backlog and has expanded testing to solve more crimes, but much more needs to be done.

"If there's a rape kit left sitting on a shelf, there's a victim without justice. This program must be kept alive until the backlog numbers total zero," said Senator Biden. "It is unconscionable that we have the ability to solve these crimes and hold the perpetrators responsible, but because of red tape and lack of funding, the criminals are free and their victims continue live in fear. In the past five years, we've made headway in the backlog, but we still have a long road to go before it is eliminated."

After holding Judiciary Committee hearings on the backlog of rape kits waiting to be tested, Sen. Biden introduced and Congress passed the Advancing Justice Through DNA Act in 2004 to help states eliminate their DNA backlog and allow law enforcement greater leeway to indict unnamed individuals using their DNA profile.

The bill was named for Debbie Smith, a Virginia woman who was raped near her home in 1989 and lived in fear until a crime laboratory discovered a DNA match between the rape scene evidence and a State prisoner's DNA sample. That match gave Mrs. Smith her first moment of real security and closure, and since then she has traveled the country to advocate on behalf of assault victims and champion the use of DNA to fight sexual assault.

When the Debbie Smith Act was first introduced in 2003, the Lifetime TV network collected more than 110,000 signatures on a petition in support of it, which was delivered to Congress by Debbie Smith herself. Smith was attacked in her home by a rapist who threatened to come back and kill her if she told anyone what had happened. Although she followed all of the proper procedures and had a rape kit done right away, she had to wait six years for her rape kit to be analyzed. When it was finally processed, DNA evidence from the kit led to the conviction of her rapist, who was already in prison for another crime.

"Each one of these stalled cases represents women's lives," says Debbie Smith. "Many women are paralyzed after an attack because their rapist is still out there, and you never know if he's going to come back." Smith's emotional testimony moved many Washington lawmakers to tears — and action...Today, Smith travels the country lobbying for the use of DNA-matching technology — and the law created in her name. She wants other women to experience the closure she has spent so many years working toward. "Whenever I have to deal with my attack again, I know that I'm going to have [another] nightmare," she says. "I know this is never going to be OK and I'm never going to forget, but at least I know I'm making something good out of something so terrible."

Here are the specifics on what the Debbie Smith Reauthorization Act of 2008 contains:

  • $151 million per year for the Debbie Smith DNA Backlog Grant Program to eliminate the current backlog of unanalyzed DNA samples in the nation’s crime labs. This money will provide federal grants to state and local governments over the next six years for DNA analysis of unprocessed evidence in rape cases

  • $12.5 million per year for the DNA Sexual Assault Justice Act help local law enforcement agencies put the DNA profiles of convicted felons into state and national databases. It also provides training grants to help ensure that nurses, police and paramedics know how to best collect and preserve DNA evidence in sexual assault cases; and

  • $30 million per year for the Sexual Assault Forensic Exam Grants to ensure that there are trained and equipped personnel to assist with the treatment and examination of sexual assault victims, including Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE) and Sexual Assault Forensic Examiners (SAFE).

Providing funding for rape kits? Making programs that combat violence against women a priority? There's definitely only one VP candidate you'll hear that from in this election. And on that note, we'll end with a quote from Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a strong supporter of this law, who also released a statement last week on the reauthorization:

"I want to make one point on the issue of rape kit testing, which this legislation does so much to promote and which Debbie Smith has worked so hard to make available for all victims of horrendous attacks. No victim should ever be required to pay the cost of a rape kit. Collecting and testing evidence from serious crimes is a responsibility our government and our community bears, and it should never be seen as a revenue source for cities and towns. It appalls me that any official in any community would condone such a practice, and I hope it will stop."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Guess he hasn't figured out yet that it's like totally cool and pro-woman to make women pay for their own rape kits.