President Donald Trump has signed a bill that will help prosecutors identify and convict rapists across the country.
On Monday, Trump signed into law the Debbie Smith Reauthorization Act of 2019, which provides funding to help states eliminate their ever-growing backlogs of untested rape kits, ABC News reported. Eliminating the backlogs is a time-sensitive issue, since statutes of limitations may put a time limit on prosecuting perpetrators.
A big win
According to ABC, there are about 100,000 rape kits in police departments and crime labs across the country. That’s DNA evidence that could be used to identify suspects and convict — or exonerate — criminal defendants, but it remains unavailable to prosecutors.
Advocates have pressed to eliminate the backlog, pointing to the critical necessity of making DNA evidence available before statutes of limitations run out. The original bill, first signed into law in 2004 by then-President George W. Bush, was named after a rape victim, Debbie Smith, whose evidence was not used for five years.
Trump signed the reauthorized bill into law Monday, setting aside millions in federal funding to help local police departments clear their backlogs, as well as train DNA analysts. In particular, the measure calls for $151 million to the Debbie Smith DNA Backlog Grant Program, $12.5 million for DNA training and education programs, and $30 million for the Sexual Assault Forensic Exam Grant Program, ABC reported.
“We know that DNA is much more likely than fingerprints to result in the identification of a criminal, yet thousands of rape kits currently sit untested in labs and on police storage shelves across the nation,” Trump’s press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, said in a statement.
Grisham noted that the act “originally became law to provide local and [s]tate crime laboratories the resources to end the backlog of untested DNA evidence from unsolved crimes.” Now, the measure has been reauthorized in full force.
“President Donald J. Trump is proud to have worked with Congress, especially with Congresswoman [Ann] Wagner and Senators [John] Cornyn and [Chuck] Grassley, to achieve this bipartisan reauthorization,” Grisham said.
A step forward
The advocacy group “End the Backlog” estimates that there are more than 10,000 untested rape kits in California alone, according to Newsweek. And while data is unknown for some states, most have at least 1,000 untested kits, making this bill all the more important.
The law as signed by Bush expired on Sept. 30 of last year, prompting a bipartisan majority in Congress to reauthorize it, according to The Hill. The money made available by the bill has helped more than 40% of all DNA matches since 2005, according to ABC.
For her part, Debbie Smith pressed for its passage by both Houses of Congress.
“The years I spent waiting for justice can never be returned to me,” Smith said at a press conference advocating for the bill in September 2019. “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.”