Press Conference: RAINN Urges Congress to Renew Debbie Smith Act

Washington, D.C. - Today Debbie Smith, a survivor and advocate, alongside RAINN, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, held a press conference announcing delivery of over 32,000 signatures from citizens across the nation urging Congress to pass the Debbie Smith Act when it returns next week.

The Debbie Smith Act is the largest federal effort to eliminate the rape kit and DNA backlog. Since 2011 there has been an 85% increase in demand for testing. This increased demand places a heavy burden on state and local crime labs. The Debbie Smith Act authorizes Congress to allocate $151 million dollars annually to state and local labs for DNA and rape kit testing. The law will expire on September 30 unless the House of Representatives votes to reauthorize it.

According to the FBI, as of July 2019, CODIS (the FBI’s DNA database system) has produced over 475,803 hits, assisting in more than 465,270 investigations. According to the National Institute of Justice 42% of CODIS hits are the direct result of Debbie Smith Act funding.

“The years I spent waiting for justice can never be returned to me,” said Debbie Smith, the bill’s namesake. “I was always afraid and constantly looking over my shoulder. But other victims do not have to go through this. On behalf of the many rape victims who have reached out to me and for the thousands more awaiting justice, I thank our champions in the House and the Senate for prioritizing this important legislation.”

“One of the achievements I am most proud of in my career is my legislation that established the Debbie Smith grant program. It has been called the most important anti-rape legislation ever signed into law because the funding enables local law enforcement and forensic labs to process DNA evidence, including rape kits, in a timely manner. Continuing this program is essential to making sure that sexual assault victims do not have to wait for justice. We cannot allow its authorization to lapse, and I’m confident that the program will be reauthorized with bipartisan support. I want to thank Debbie Smith, RAINN, and all the advocates who have always championed this program.” - Rep. Carolyn Maloney.

“The rape kit backlog is an unconscionable problem throughout the country. Victims of sexual violence deserve to have the full support of law enforcement in their fight for justice and that support extends to the testing of all rape kits. The reauthorization of the Debbie Smith Act is vital to capturing violent predators and ensuring they are held accountable for their crimes.” - Rep. Ann Wagner

“The Debbie Smith Act has helped bring justice to so many victims. It has also helped take thousands of serial rapists off the streets, which has prevented countless sexual assaults,” said Scott Berkowitz, president and founder of RAINN. “It’s imperative that when Congress comes back to work next week that it makes passage of this landmark legislation a priority.”

"DNA funding remains one of the most critical investments government can make for the members of our organization in order to prosecute sex offenders", stated Nelson Bunn, Executive Director of the National District Attorney's Association. "DNA testing is the best tool we have to identify very serious offenders who remain at large, harming people in our communities, and the best weapon against wrongfully convicting an innocent person."

“It’s difficult for us mere mortals to fathom how much courage it has taken to do what Debbie has done and to truly understand the impact that her life-long advocacy for rape victims has had on this country,” said Kris Rose, director of strategic partnerships at Healing Justice. “Advocating for this bill, Debbie has had to tell her story countless times. Each time she does, she has to relive the trauma of that crime. She shouldn’t have to.”

Ilse Knecht, Director of Policy & Advocacy for the Joyful Heart Foundation said: "There is no question that the ability of law enforcement, crime labs, and prosecutors to implement change often depends, in part, on whether additional resources and funding are dedicated to clearing backlogs and pursuing investigative leads. The Debbie Smith Act has provided crucial funding for crime labs to enhance their capacity and upgrade technology to test sexual assault kits and other DNA evidence in a timely manner.”