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Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2011--Continued

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. CORNYN. Thank you, Mr. President. The Violence Against Women Act will be reauthorized, at least in the Senate, by bipartisan consensus today. There are some different versions that will be offered. I am sure each side thinks theirs is an improvement over the alternative, and I will leave to Senator Hutchison and Senator Grassley to address the improvements they have made over the bill that came out of the Judiciary Committee and the alternative they have proposed.

AMENDMENT NO. 2086

(Purpose: To amend title 18 of the United States Code and other provisions of law to strengthen provisions of the Violence Against Women Act and improve justice for crime victims)

Mr. CORNYN. Mr. President, I rise to speak on an amendment I have offered, and I ask unanimous consent at this time to call up amendment No. 2086 and ask for its immediate consideration.

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Mr. CORNYN. This amendment I have offered in conjunction with Senator Vitter, Senator McConnell, Senator Michael Bennet from Colorado, and others is a bipartisan amendment which will make sure that more of the money contained in the funds the Congress appropriates to the Department of Justice will be used to test backlogged rape kit evidence that has not been tested. I know the jargon may be a little confusing, but basically what happens is when the law enforcement officials investigate a sexual assault, they take a rape kit to collect physical evidence and bodily fluids for DNA testing, among other types of tests.

It is a national scandal that we don't know how many untested rape kits there may be. In other words, criminal investigations take place where this critical evidence is acquired, but it never goes to a laboratory to be tested to identify the perpetrator of that sexual assault. It is estimated that there are as many as 400,000 untested rape kits across the country sitting either in laboratories or in police lockers, evidence lockers, that have not yet been forwarded for testing at a laboratory--400,000.

I heard a chilling statistic this morning from a young woman, Camille Cooper, who is the legislative director of an organization called PROTECT out of Knoxville, TN. This is an organization that commits itself to combating child sex crimes and to helping those victims get justice.

She said this morning in my presence that before law enforcement identifies a child sex crime perpetrator, on average they project as many as 27 children have already been sexually assaulted by this same person before law enforcement gets them on their radar. I mention that number--I can't vouch for the number, but I do trust her--I mention that because the reason these 400,000 estimated rape kits--critical evidence in a child or in an adult sexual assault case--if they are untested, that evidence cannot be used to then match up against the DNA data bank to get a hit to identify the perpetrator of the crime. By the nature of the crime, these are not one-time events. These are people who for some unknown reason tend to commit serial assaults against children and women. So it is even more necessary, more compelling, to identify them early because if we wait too long, we may either run into a statute of limitations and not be able to prosecute them for that crime but, even worse, in the interim, they are committing additional sexual assaults against other victims.

So it is absolutely critical that we get these rape kits tested--this physical evidence from sexual assault cases--as soon as we can and match it up against the DNA in these DNA data banks that are maintained by the FBI so we can identify the people who are committing these heinous crimes and get them off the streets sooner, so that future victims will be protected from those assaults. It is also important that a person who is suspected of one of these heinous crimes be exonerated if, in fact, the physical evidence will rule them out from having committed the crime.

My amendment to the underlying bill is included in the Hutchison-Grassley version. But in the event the Hutchison-Grassley version does not prevail today, I offer my amendment that will redirect more of the money--the $100 million that is appropriated by Congress under the Debbie Smith Act--to make sure this critical evidence is tested on a timely basis for the reasons I mentioned.

My amendment requires that at least 75 percent of the funds given out through grant programs by the Department of Justice be used for the core purpose of testing those rape kits. Also, 7 percent of those funds would be used to inventory the backlog.

To me, it is a scandal that we don't even know what the backlog consists of because there are actually two kinds of backlog cases: One is the case where the kit is already at the laboratory and it is a part of the backlog of the laboratory. But the hidden backlog consists of the rape test kits that are maintained in police lockers and have never been forwarded to the laboratory in the first place. Those are not typically part of this estimate of the

backlog. The experts--the people who watch this area closely--estimate that if we count all of the untested kits that are evidence waiting for a laboratory to test them to match up with a perpetrator of these crimes, there could be as many as 400,000 of them untested by the labs in the backlog.

I know my colleague, Senator Klobuchar, will be offering an alternative to my amendment. I ask unanimous consent to have printed in the Record at the end of my present remarks a letter from the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network on those two competing amendments.

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Mr. CORNYN. I will not read the whole letter, which is addressed to me, but I will read parts of it:

I am writing to express RAINN's concern with the draft VAWA amendment by Sen. Klobuchar. Unlike the Cornyn amendment, we do not believe this draft amendment will make effective or positive improvements to the Debbie Smith Act.

Indeed, they conclude later in the letter:

Overall, we believe this amendment is largely symbolic and will not have the impact in reducing the backlog that we find in the Cornyn amendment.

Very quickly, there is no requirement in the Klobuchar amendment that audits actually have to be conducted. So, to me, that seems like a case of willful blindness to the size and scope of the backlogs and the problems.

There is no requirement in the Klobuchar alternative for a registry. In other words, there is no way the Department of Justice can make sure the money granted to law enforcement is actually used for the purpose for which the grant was intended, by creating a registry. In fact, the Klobuchar amendment actually diverts some of the funds from the core purpose of the Debbie Smith Act for the purpose of testing this critical evidence. It takes out a provision for administrative subpoenas to track unregistered sex offenders. It cuts some of the sentencing provisions in my amendment for people guilty of interstate child sex trafficking--children under 12 years of age--and it eliminates the sense-of-the-Senate provision that I worked on with Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois condemning a Web site known as backpage.com, which has been identified in the New York Times and other places as a source of advertising for underage prostitution--something certainly worthy of our condemnation as a Senate.

So I will come back to talk about other aspects of this, but I hope my colleagues will look at the letter from RAINN, the largest antisexual violence organization in the United States, which says they believe the Klobuchar amendment is largely symbolic and does not do as much as the Cornyn amendment would to get at these perpetrators and to identify them for what they are.

Exhibit 1

RAPE, ABUSE & INCEST

NATIONAL NETWORK,

Washington, DC, April 26, 2012.
Hon. John Cornyn,
U.S. Senate,
Washington, DC.

Dear Sen. Cornyn: I am writing to express RAINN's concern with the draft VAWA amendment by Sen. Klobuchar. Unlike the Cornyn amendment, we do not believe that this draft amendment will make effective or positive improvements to the Debbie Smith Act.

The Klobuchar amendment adds an additional purpose area to the Debbie Smith Act promoting inter-agency communication, potentially at the expense of reducing the backlog. Funds used for this section have the potential to be used for radios and other communication tools. While we can't speak to the need for such spending, we do know that this would not have a direct impact on the backlog and would not aid in solving cases. Unlike the Cornyn amendment, which nearly doubles the percentage of Debbie Smith funds that are spent on casework, this provision would divert money from labs and go against the congressional intent of the original bill.

In addition, this draft would allow the Justice Department to fund backlog audits, but would not designate funds specifically for that purpose. It would not establish a registry to allow the collection of data; would not establish any process for transparency; and would not provide the kind of comprehensive information that is needed to efficiently target Debbie Smith funds to the areas of greatest need. Finally, it strips out a number of provisions that were included at the request of law enforcement agencies, in order to ensure that their compliance would not be burdensome. The SAFER Act section of the Cornyn amendment has none of these defects, and has safeguards to ensure that funds spent on an audit and registry will not take away from funds spent on testing DNA evidence. Overall, we believe this amendment is largely symbolic and will not have the impact in reducing the backlog that we find in the Cornyn amendment.

RAINN is the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization. RAINN created and operates the National Sexual Assault Hotlines (800.656.HOPE and rainn.org), which have helped more than 1.7 million people since 1994. RAINN also carries out programs to prevent sexual assault, help victims, and ensure that rapists are brought to justice. For more information about RAINN, please visit www.rainn.org.

I appreciate your work on this issue, and encourage you to continue to push for adoption of the Cornyn amendment, which will make real, positive changes in the lives of victims.

Sincerely,

Scott Berkowitz,
President and Founder.

Mr. CORNYN. With that, Mr. President, I reserve the remainder of my time and yield the floor.

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Mr. CORNYN. I wish to talk about one aspect of Senator Hutchison's legislation that is also included in my stand-alone amendment. This is the administrative subpoena authority. Because this has been taken out of the Klobuchar alternative, it is not in underlying Leahy bill.

What happens is sex offenders are required to register. If they do not register, they are much more likely to commit future acts of sexual assault and abuse, particularly against children. As a matter of fact, one of the biggest indicators that someone is likely to reoffend is when they do not register. So what the Hutchison bill does, what my bill does, is give U.S. marshals the administrative subpoenas to collect records and information to help identify these unregistered sex offenders and to protect future victims from their sexual assault.

Because if they are registered, if they are identified, they are much less likely to reoffend and commit further acts of sexual abuse. We all want to see this legislation pass. But I would just reiterate for my colleagues' benefit, the letter we received from the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network that said the alternative to my amendment that will be offered--that the alternative is largely symbolic and will not have the impact of reducing the impact we find in the Cornyn amendment.

I would ask my colleagues to support the amendment and to support certainly Senator Hutchison's amendment. I commend her for her great work on this subject.

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Mr. CORNYN. Madam President, for those who supported the Klobuchar amendment, here is your last chance to make sure more money under the Debbie Smith Act is appropriated and directed toward solving the 400,000 untested rape kits backlogged in this country that is nothing short of a national scandal.

We know the people who commit these sexual assault crimes are serial offenders. If we don't catch them early, more people are going to get hurt. The best way to catch them is to collect this DNA, match it against banked DNA, and take them off the street, and to exonerate those who may be under suspicion but who are innocent.

I hope my colleagues will support this amendment. It has the support of the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network, and it has administrative subpoenas to track down unregistered sex offenders who are more likely to commit crimes against children and other innocent victims. Please vote for this amendment. It will strengthen the Violence Against Women Act and you can be proud of your vote.

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