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House Approves Bipartisan Bill to Protect Victims of Sexual Assault


Location: Washington, DC

The House of Representatives today approved the Debbie Smith Reauthorization Act of 2014 (H.R. 4323) by voice vote. This bipartisan bill, introduced by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-Calif.), protects victims of rape and helps remove criminals from our streets by extending a federal grant program for state and local governments to reduce the backlog of DNA test kits through 2019.

The original Debbie Smith Act, authored by Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), was passed in 2004 as part of the Justice for All Act, which ensured DNA evidence could be used to convict the right suspect and created a federal DNA backlog processing grant program to provide necessary resources to crime laboratories across the country. Since then, millions of dollars in federal funding have been appropriated under the Debbie Smith DNA Backlog Grant Program to process the hundreds of thousands of DNA evidence kits. The grant program's authorization is currently set to expire at the end of fiscal year 2014.

Chairman Goodlatte, Congresswoman Bass, and Congresswoman Maloney praised today's vote by the House to reauthorize this critical program in the statements below.

Chairman Goodlatte: "Debbie Smith is a true hero. Her courage to speak out about the horrors of her painful experience and advocate tirelessly for others has done so much to help victims of rape. Sadly, we can't take away the pain and fear these women have experienced, but we can provide necessary resources used to solve these crimes so that victims don't have to live in fear for years waiting for their perpetrators to come to justice.

"I'm pleased that the House voted today to stand by these brave victims and ensure that DNA analysis is completed quickly so that law enforcement officials can accurately identify, prosecute, and lock these criminals in jail so that sexual predators aren't left free to roam our streets and potentially hurt more women. I urge the Senate to move swiftly on this legislation so that we continue providing the necessary resources to protect victims of rape and bring criminals to justice."

Congresswoman Bass: "Partisan politics ends when it comes to making sure rapists are brought to justice. I want to thank both Chairman Goodlatte and Rep. Maloney for their leadership in ensuring that the Debbie Smith Act was quickly reauthorized. This law has provided necessary resources to our law enforcement officials so rapists are behind bars and not on the street, and today's actions will ensure that a successful program will continue to work in our communities."

Congresswoman Maloney: "This is one of those rare bills that will actually put real criminals behind bars and better protect people from one of the most traumatic assaults imaginable, rape. Federal funding for the processing of DNA evidence is critical to eliminating the backlog of hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits that exists in state and local law enforcement jurisdictions all over the country. Each time we convict a rapist using DNA evidence, we can protect countless other women from repeat sexual offenders."

The original Debbie Smith Act was introduced after rape survivor Debbie Smith testified before Congress in June 2001 about using DNA evidence to solve rape cases. In 1989, Debbie was kidnapped from her home in Williamsburg, Virginia, and dragged into the woods where she was raped. As Debbie notes in her letter to Chairman Goodlatte, the traumatic effect of the assault remained with her and her family for over six years, until her attacker's DNA sample was finally removed from the state's backlog and included in the national DNA database. The suspect was immediately linked to her rape, convicted of multiple felonies, and then sentenced to two life terms plus 25 years in prison.

As of April 2013, the FBI national database included more than 487,000 forensic profiles from crime scene samples. This information has aided more than 200,000 investigations nationwide, including nearly 8,500 in Virginia alone.

Text of the Debbie Smith Reauthorization Act can be found here. Original cosponsors of the bill include Ranking Member John Conyers (D-Mich.), Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.), and Crime Subcommittee Ranking Member Bobby Scott (D-Va.).

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