Bill will decrease backlog of untested rape kits

Bill will decrease backlog of untested rape kits

NewsChannel 10

Amarillo, Texas - DNA evidence is a powerful tool in convicting rapists and other sexual predators, but the nation's current system for testing that evidence, isn't designed to handle the massive amount of cases in a timely manner.

A proposed law aims to change that by eliminating the backlog of untested rape kits.

It's overdue justice for thousands of rape victims across the Lone Star state, a new bill presented by U.S. Senator John Cornyn of Texas, that would speed up the process of testing DNA evidence.

On average the Amarillo Police Department sends out one to two rape kits per week for testing, which comes out to about 100 per year. However, 900 kits remain untested for various reasons.

There are more than 400,000 untested rape kits sitting on the shelves of police departments and labs across the country.

Cornyn says, "The nationwide rape kit backlog is a national scandal, one that many people just don't know much about, and it has serious consequences for sexual assault victims."

That's because many of these kits have been collecting dust for years, even decades.

Lt. Martin Birkenfeld with the Amarillo Police Department's Crimes Against Persons Unit explains, "A person who has been through a traumatic event in their life doesn't want to wait years and years for the legal process to move forward."

It may already be too late for many cases.

Birkenfeld says, "There are some dangerous criminals we need to get in jail quickly and if the lab is unable to give us those results in a timely manner, than that offender is allowed to be on the streets longer and potentially committing other crimes."

But lawmakers are looking to put an end to the injustice with the SAFER Act, also known as the Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Registry.

The Justice for Victims Amendment hopes to minimize the backlog of untested rape kits, take serial rapists off the street, and reduce the number of sexual assault victims.

Cornyn says, "If you commit some of the worst crimes imaginable in the United States, you should have the certain knowledge you will be tracked down, and that you will receive tough and appropriate punishment."

Federal money that was supposed to go toward testing rape kits, has gone elsewhere.

But the SAFER Act will redirect those funds through the Debbie Smith Act, which was designed all along to help agencies deal with their backlogs.

As to how long that will take, no one knows.

The bill has bi-partisan support, but probably won't be voted on until after the election.