February 28, 2013 — As part of its renewal of the Violence Against Women Act, the House of Representatives today passed the Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Reporting (SAFER) Act, which will help eliminate the backlog of untested DNA evidence from unsolved rape cases and take countless rapists off the streets. The Senate has already passed the bill, so it is now headed to the president to be signed into law.
SAFER will bring transparency to the testing process and increase the efficiency of the criminal justice system by more effectively targeting areas with large backlogs. SAFER requires participating law enforcement agencies to audit and publicly disclose their backlogs for the first time. It also reallocates existing funding to ensure that much more gets spent directly on testing evidence and solving cases (without increasing the deficit).
The SAFER Act was led by Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Reps. Ted Poe (R-TX) and Carolyn Maloney (D-NY). Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) added SAFER to VAWA earlier this year, leading to today’s passage.
"We owe a huge thank you to Sen. Cornyn, Rep. Poe, Sen. Bennet and Rep. Maloney,” said RAINN president and founder Scott Berkowitz. “They fought very hard to get SAFER passed. We also appreciate the crucial support of Sens. Leahy and Grassley, and Sen. Leahy’s inclusion of SAFER in VAWA. The result of all their hard work will be the reduction of the DNA backlog and the prosecution of many more rapists.” All four SAFER sponsors and Sen. Leahy are past winners of RAINN’s Crime Fighter Award, which recognizes those who lead the fight against sexual violence.
“For far too long, an unacceptable national backlog of untested rape kits has compounded the pain for too many victims of sexual assault,” said Sen. Cornyn. “I am pleased that Congress has passed this legislation that takes a significant step toward reducing that backlog and bringing swifter justice for millions of victims.”
“Victims of sexual assault have already gone through enough. They shouldn’t have to wait for justice to be served while important DNA evidence sits untested on dusty shelves,” Sen. Bennet said. “Today’s passage of the SAFER Act brings us one step closer to bringing criminals to justice, by providing law enforcement agencies with the resources and flexibility to address our nation’s rape kit backlog.”
“I am pleased that the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act is finally headed to the President’s desk,” said Rep. Poe. “This bill addresses the plight of victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, and dating violence and provides important protections and services to victims, many of whom are women and children. I am proud that VAWA now specifically tackles the long overlooked problem that has denied justice to hundreds of thousands of sexual assault victims for far too long: the rape kit backlog. No one should be denied justice because of a bureaucratic backlog. America is better than that. VAWA ensures that victims get the services and protections that they deserve.”
“Passing VAWA and SAFER are much needed victories for women across the country,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney. “Combined with the services VAWA will provide to victims and their families, the inclusion of the SAFER Act ensures that victims of traumatic violence won’t wait while DNA evidence sits in storage untested. I thank my colleagues on both sides of the aisle for passing these critically important bills to fulfill the duty of government to keep all people safe.”
Speakers bureau member Julie Weil has helped RAINN lobby for SAFER for more than two years, meeting with members of Congress and recruiting co-sponsors. “I am thrilled that those who work on Capitol Hill took time to meet with a survivor like me and voted to support such a landmark bill," says Weil. "The inclusion of the SAFER Act as part of VAWA is essential in helping sexual assault victims get the justice they so rightly deserve. All Americans can breathe a little easier now that an enhanced version of VAWA has been passed into law.”
RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) is the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization and was named one of "America's 100 Best Charities" by Worth magazine. RAINN created and operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800.656.HOPE and online.rainn.org) in partnership with more than 1,100 local rape crisis centers across the country and operates the DoD Safe Helpline for the Department of Defense. The hotlines have helped more than 1.8 million people since 1994. RAINN also carries out programs to prevent sexual violence, help victims and ensure that rapists are brought to justice. For more information about RAINN, please visit rainn.org.