Texas Sen. John Cornyn urged Congress on Tuesday to renew the federal program that is helping to catch dozens of serial rapists by providing funds to local enforcement agencies to test a massive backlog of rape kit exams.
Noting that April is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Cornyn is calling for the "reauthorization" of the bipartisan Justice For All Act, which he co-sponsored with Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy last year, the Dallas Morning News
The program helps to fund testing on old rape kit exams for DNA samples, which could be linked to other cases, as well as for increasing the capacity of laboratories conducting the tests.
The program, which also provides funds for other crime-fighting initiatives, is due to expire in September, and the Senate minority whip is pushing for a five-year renewal.
Cornyn also wants to increase the amount of money spent on the rape kit testing.
The number of untested rape kits is estimated at 400,000 nationwide, which are the result of victims who suddenly end their sex assault complaints during early police investigations. The cases cannot be prosecuted without the testimony of the victims, so the evidence is kept in storage.
The senator said that if the old rape kits are tested, the DNA from an unsolved case can potentially be linked in the future to an offender in prison and prevent him from being paroled. The evidence may also be used to help persuade a victim to put a rapist or serial rapist behind bars long after the crime.
"It is important for us to make sure that these rape kits are tested and to get these serial sexual assailants off the street and brought before a court of law and justice," Cornyn said
in the Senate earlier this month. "Even a relatively small reduction in the backlog can lead to major gains in public safety and peace of mind."
As the senator headed a discussion on sexual assault victims at the Dallas campus of the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital on Tuesday, Cornyn embraced rape victim Lavinia Masters, who was attacked at knifepoint at age 13 by a home invader.
"I lived a different life," Masters told the Morning News. "I lived sheltered. I felt unprotected. I felt like I couldn’t depend on government officials to protect me because I felt like I was just out there for 20-something years watching my back, wondering if he was indeed going to come back for me."
The rape kit exam taken at the time was eventually linked to a convicted felon in 2006, finally giving her peace of mind.
Referring to the need for the funding for untested rape kits, Cornyn said, "You would have to have a heart made of stone not to respond to stories like Lavinia’s, and see the need for this and the benefits."
The senator revealed that the processing of 1,600 old sex assault kits in Detroit, including some from the 1980s, had resulted in police identifying 100 serial rapists, 10 of whom were already convicted rapists.
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