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DNA evidence from more than 180,000 rape crime scenes has been collected but never analyzed by a crime lab, witnesses told a special hearing chaired by Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DE, pictured at right). The unexamined rape kits are sitting in police warehouses along with at least 600,000 untested DNA samples that have been collected from convicted felons.

The result: tens of thousands of rapists still free to attack more victims, despite the fact that they left behind the evidence necessary to put them behind bars. To make matters worse, every day the statute of limitations on hundreds of crimes expires, meaning those rapists can never be prosecuted. RAINN founder and president Scott Berkowitz was among the experts invited to provide testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee panel. He urged that Congress quickly pass a bill to eliminate the DNA evidence backlog, train police and nurses to properly collect DNA evidence, and encourage states to add a "DNA exception," effectively lengthening their statutes of limitations.

FBI crime lab director Dr. Dwight Adams, famed Manhattan prosecutor Linda Fairstein, and rape victim and advocate Debbie Smith also provided testimony. Sens. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) were among those in attendance at the Crime and Drugs subcommittee hearing. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), the committee's ranking Republican, also supports efforts to eliminate the rape kit backlog.

One of the bills under consideration by Congress is known as the Debbie Smith Act, in honor of the courage and energy Smith has shown in fighting for federal action. Introduced by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Sen. Cantwell, it authorizes grants for states to establish sexual assault nurse examiner programs and to train law enforcement and first responders on handling sexual assault cases and forensic evidence; standardizes forensic evidence collection; and provides funding to reduce the current DNA backlog and to enter the data into the FBI's DNA database.

The Rape Kit DNA Analysis Backlog Elimination Act of 2002, introduced by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Sen. Clinton, would increase the funds available to test evidence kits from $50 million over two years to $250 million.

The DNA Sexual Assault Justice Act of 2002,introduced by Sen. Biden and Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY), provides funding to eliminate the DNA backlog, train forensic nurses and police in evidence collection, and make improvements to the FBI's national DNA database. The Biden bill also authorizes "John Doe" warrants to lengthen the statute of limitations on federal crimes.

Lifetime Television has an online petition in support of rape kit analysis legislation. Visit www.lifetimetv.com and click on "Put Rapists in Jail" to add your name.

Excerpted from RAINNews, July/August 2002


Rapists are less likely than other criminals to be rearrested for another crime after being released from prison, according to a new Justice Department study [http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/abstract/rpr94.htm] of recidivism.

Forty-six percent of rapists released from prison in 1994 were rearrested for another crime within three years, compared with 67.5% of all released prisoners and 79% of car thieves. Among those who served time for a sexual assault other than rape, 41.4% were arrested on a new charge within three years.

The rearrest rate for rapists was down from 51.5% in 1983, the last time the Justice Department studied recidivism rates, while the rate for other sexual offenders is down from 47.9%. The overall rate for all criminals climbed from 62.5% in 1983.

Only 2.5% of released rapists were arrested for committing another rape, down from 7.7% in 1983. Sixteen point one percent were arrested for another violent crime (usually assault or robbery), 14.8% were arrested for a property crime, 11.2% for a drug offense, and 20.5% for a public order offense such as a parole violation or traffic offense.

Of the 46% of released rapists who were rearrested, 60% were convicted of the new charges.

This study reflects only new arrests, not all new crimes. Previous Justice Department studies have shown that only about one out of six rapes results in an arrest (largely because two-thirds of rapes are never reported to the police).

Released offenders overall accounted for about 5% of all new arrests for serious crimes, and nearly 8% of arrests for homicide. This new data reinforces the importance of collecting DNA samples from convicted offenders and promptly processing them for inclusion in the FBI's national DNA database. While there are now more than one million DNA records in the FBI database, there is a backlog of more than 600,000 DNA samples that have been collected from felons, but not yet processed or entered into the database. There are another 180,000 DNA samples from rape evidence kits that have also yet to be processed (see related story, above).

Excerpted from RAINNews, July/August 2002


The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network is the nation's largest anti-sexual assault organization. With a national perspective and broad reach, RAINN is a trusted resource for media, policymakers and the public. Additionally, RAINN operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1.800.656.HOPE. Comprised of more than 1,000 local affiliates, the hotline has helped more than half a million victims of sexual assault since 1994. For more information, please visit the RAINN website at www.rainn.org

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