WASHINGTON, April 7 (UPI) -- A bipartisan group of legislators gathered Monday on Capitol Hill to urge the House and Senate to pass the reauthorization of a law that moves to push eliminate the backlog of processing rape kits.
Debbie Smith, a rape survivor and the legislation's namesake, spoke movingly about how the law has helped to reduce the number of cases like hers, when she was forced to wait more than six years for the evidence in her rape kit to be tested against a national database.
"These aren't rape kits that need to be tested, these are lives that need to be given back to their owners," Smith, a resident of Williamsburg, Va., said, through tears. "These are fragments of lives that have been torn apart."
The House Judiciary Committee, led by Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., and the law's original author, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., passed the reauthorization last week. The House passed the measure by unanimous voice vote Monday afternoon, renewing it for the second time since the bill's original passage in 2004.
The National Institutes of Justice reports that in some 18 percent of sexual assault cases that occurred between 2002 and 2007, forensic evidence had been collected but had not been submitted to a crime lab. An estimated 400,000 rape kits sit on shelves, unprocessed.
At the event Monday, Maloney touted a measure in the 2013 Violence Against Women Act that requires 75 percent of the $113 million in funds for the Debbie Smith Act be put directly towards reducing the rape kit backlog.
She also called for the Justice Department to conduct a review in six months to track the money and ensure it is being used to pay for the processing of the kits.
"This is one of those rare bills that virtually guarantees that it will put real criminals behind bars and protect people more effectively against one of the most traumatic assaults imaginable," Mahoney said.