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Friday
Sep062019

Funding that helps states eliminate rape kit testing backlogs set to expire

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- The federal grant program that helps states eliminate backlogs in rape kit testing is set to expire and advocates said Friday that House Democrats need to act quickly before the money runs out at the end of September.

Right now, more than 100,000 rape kits in states across the country remain untested, some even stored away in law enforcement warehouses, advocates said. As years pass, statutes of limitations in the states bar prosecution, making it much harder, if not impossible, to identify perpetrators and bring charges. Without the federal funding, advocates say, it’s possible many of the rape kits might never be tested.

 Since 2004, the Debbie Smith Act, the name of the grants measure, has been reauthorized with overwhelming bipartisan support, advocates said. Almost 200,000 offenders have been identified because of the grant money, they said, and overall, the grant money is responsible for over 40% of all DNA matches since 2005. Funding for backlogged rape kits also come from non-profits, local, and state funds.

“We need Speaker Pelosi to step up and let the Judiciary Committee know that this is a priority,” said Scott Berkowitz, the president of the anti-sexual violence organization RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), said at a news conference on Friday.) --  The federal grant program that helps states eliminate backlogs in rape kit testing is set to expire and advocates said Friday that House Democrats need to act quickly before the money runs out at the end of September.

Right now, more than 100,000 rape kits in states across the country remain untested, some even stored away in law enforcement warehouses, advocates said. As years pass, statutes of limitations in the states bar prosecution, making it much harder, if not impossible, to identify perpetrators and bring charges. Without the federal funding, advocates say, it’s possible many of the rape kits might never be tested.

Also on Friday, Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn urged House Democrats to re-authorize the funding. But complicating matters, House Democrats have passed the funding as part of the Violence Against Women Act, a much larger piece of legislation, and they're pushing the Republican-led Senate to pass that measure.

Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York, her spokesman told ABC News, is "very committed" to reauthorizing the funding, saying rape survivors deserve justice.

Testing rape kits is expensive. Local agencies can apply to receive some of the $151 million in grant money, which would go toward updating lab equipment, training, and testing backlogged rape kits.

The measure was named after Debbie Smith, who was raped in Virginia in 1989 and DNA evidence helped convict her attacker.

At the news conference Friday, she begged Congress to continue the funding.

"Hope is a powerful, mighty force in all of our lives,” Smith said. “Hope is strength, endurance and motivation.”

“The loss of hope can shatter and destroy,” Smith said through tears. “This bill is the torch of hope.”

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