Archive for January, 2010

Good News…

January 31, 2010

Houston Contracts Out to Combat Rape Kit Backlog

The City Council approved $4.2 million in contracts with four companies tasked with reducing a backlog of 4,000 rape kits that remain untested by the Houston Police Department crime lab. The contracts cover three years and include two one-year extension options with Strand Analytical Laboratories, Sorenson Forensics, Orchid Cellmark, and Laboratory Corporation of America.

“It’s hard to feel encouraged about something that has taken so long to resolve and so many millions of tax dollars, but we are making progress, and I am glad at that,” Mayor Annise Parker told the Houston Chronicle.

Source:   Houston Chronicle

Washington DC

January 28, 2010

Things for my trip to Washington DC are starting to shape up….
  – Sarah is working on getting Donors to sponsor our trip
  – I am recording my story in a Studio next week
  – Working to lock down dates in March
  – Plan to meet with the Leader of RAINNs Policy Department while in DC
  – Going to focus on meeting with Representatives on the Hill, rather than Senators

I have never been to Washington….so I am really looking forward to this trip.  I think it will be a great experience. I am hoping to be able to stay over a weekend and see some of the sites.

More to come later….

New York City

January 26, 2010

I had an opportunity to fly to New York City to speak to a group of College Students on a National Network but chose to pass this up. It has been a crazy couple of weeks and only a few hours notice just wasn’t going to work.

This is a very important cause to me, however; there are other things that mean more to me…..my boyfriend, my family, Nelson & Crush, my job, etc. I still plan to be involved, but I am not going to let it take over my life. I need to find a comfortable medium!

My main project for the next couple of months will be Washington D.C. Sarah and I are planning on meeting with different representatives on the Hill regarding the Bill. We also plan to meet with the head of the Policy Department at RAINN who has been involved in the Bill. Sarah is currently working on getting Donors to support our trip. I will be recording my story in a studio next Thursday after work.

Rape Kit Backlog Brief

January 24, 2010

Rape Kit Backlog

 

Background:

Every year, more than 200,000 individuals report their rape to the police (over 90 percent are women, and statistics about child rape are not included in annual government reporting data). Almost all are asked to submit to the collection of DNA evidence from their bodies, which is then stored in a small package called a rape kit. It is an invasive and sometimes traumatic process that takes four to six hours to complete. But the potential benefits are enormous: testing of the DNA evidence in a rape kit can identify an unknown perpetrator, confirm the presence of a known assailant, corroborate the victim’s account of the rape, and exonerate innocent suspects.

Unfortunately, in the United States today there are an estimated 400,000-500,000untested rape kits sitting in police evidence storage facilities and crime labs across the country. Given that rape has the lowest reporting, arrest, and prosecution rates of all violent crimes in the United States, the revolution in DNA technology could move many of these rape cases forward in the criminal justice system. Untested rape kit evidence represents lost justice for rape victims and a potential threat to public safety, as rapists who could be identified and prosecuted may remain at large.

Comprehensive studies show that one in six adult women have been victims of rape or attempted rape in their lifetime. Women face an unacceptably high risk of sexual violence in this country, and the United States can do a better job of providing redress for victims, bringing offenders to justice, and protecting society from future crimes of rape. One path toward a stronger criminal justice response to rape is to eliminate the rape kit backlog.

One important way Congress can help move the United States closer to that goal is to:

Co-Sponsor the Justice for Sexual Assault Survivors Act of 2009, which would amend the Debbie Smith Act to require states to use a specified portion of their grants on rape kit testing, and to report regularly to the Department of Justice on their number of untested rape kits and on progress made towards testing those kits. In 2004, Congress passed legislation to address the rape kit backlog. The Debbie Smith Act, named after a rape victim whose case was adversely affected by the rape kit backlog, was originally intended to provide grant money to states for rape kit testing, but was expanded to allow states to use their grants for testing any DNA in a backlog, not just rape kits. Congress reauthorized the Debbie Smith Act, also known as the DNA Backlog Reduction Grant Program, in September 2008. No hearings were held on the effectiveness of the program or how it might be improved. Reporting by journalists and research by Human Rights Watch has found that many eligible entities have never applied for Debbie Smith grants; those that received money sometimes failed to spend it in a timely manner; and it is unclear how much, if any, of the money is being used to test rape kits. For example, despite receiving more than $4 million in Debbie Smith grants, the Los Angeles Police Department actually saw its rape kit backlog grow from 2,300 in 2002 to 7,300 in 2008, and it’s not clear if any Debbie Smith funds were used to test rape kits.  The Justice for Sexual Assault Survivors Act of 2009 would remedy the gaps in the Debbie Smith grants by requiring grantees to use a portion of the money for rape kit testing, demonstrate a plan to eliminate their rape kit backlog, and report all untested rape kits in storage facilities to the Department of Justice.

Key Points on S.2736/H.R.4114

January 23, 2010

Sarah from Human Rights Watch provided me with a very useful package of information regarding the Rape Kit Backlog and Legislation in preparation for our trip to Washington D.C. in March. I wanted to summarize a few points because the more people who are aware of the issues the more progress the bill will make.

Congress first tried to address the Rape Kit Backlog in 2004 with the Debbie Smith….but to be completely honest it just wasn’t effective. It was intended to provide money to states for testing of rape kits, however; the way the bill is currently written it doesn’t guarantee that the funds will be used for Rape Kits.

The Justice for Survivors of Sexual Assault Act of 2009 would strengthen the Debbie Smith Act. Senator Al Franken introduced it to the Senate on November 5th, 2009 and Representative Carolyn Maloney introduced the companion bill to the House of Representatives on November 19th, 2009.

(Provided by Human Rights Watch)
The Justice for Survivors of Sexual Assault Act of 2009 would:
– Require states receiving Debbie Smith Act funds to develop and implement a plan to eliminate their rape kit backlog
s, including measures to reduce any backlog by 50 percent within two years.
– Require applicants for Debbie Smith Act funds to specify the portion of the funds they will use for untested rape kits.
– Require recipients of Edward Byrne grants, under a program to provide law enforcement support, to certify that they have a policy that requires every booked rape kit to be submitted to the crime laboratory for testing.
– Establish a system of financial incentives to encourage state and local governments to take aggressive steps to eliminate their rape kit backlogs.
– Create incentives to ensure timely processing of rape kits.
– Require states to pay the full, up-front cost of rape kit examinations.
– Create additional funding to train sexual assault forensic medical personnel examiners.
– Beginning in 2011, require every jurisdiction receiving a Byrne grant to report annually the number of untested rape kits in its possession to the National Institute of Justice, which will deliver annual reports on the rape kit backlog to Congress and the states.

The bill currently has 34 Co-Sponsors in the House of Representatives….the goal is 100 by March 31, 2010. It is believed that reaching 100 Co-Sponsors would put sufficient pressure on the House Crime Subcommittee Chairman to hold a hearing on the bill. Sarah and I will be focusing on getting Representatives from the House to Co-Sponsor the Bill. We will try to meet with many of them or their staffers during our trip.

What you can do to help….
1. Urge members of Congress to Sign On (check my links for an easy to use website for contacting your representatives)
2. Thank members of Congress who have already signed on and urge them to take greater leadership in getting their colleagues to Co-Sponsor the Bill as well

Interviewed with Melanie Kahn from WHAS 11

January 22, 2010

Today I interviewed with WHAS 11, a local affiliate of ABC in Louisville KY. I was nervous but I believe it went well.
We started at my house. I shared my story. We talked about how it has changed my life….joining RAINN’s Speakers Bureau, and now advocating for Rape Victims specifically for the Justice for Survivors of Sexual Assault Act of 2009. We spent about an hour at my house. We then went up to a local park to get shots of me walking, sitting on a park bench, etc. Finally we went back to where it happened. This was particularly hard on me. I will never forget what happened, but being there made it so much more vivid and real.

Unfortunately their Broadcast is only local to Louisville KY (it reaches as far as Covington). It is scheduled to air in February. Melanie will be sending me a link to where it will be posted on their website. She is also going to send a DVD. I will make sure to share the link when it is available.

My focus will now be on preparing for Washington….Sarah has sent me a lot of material to read through.

Thanks to everyone for the Prayers and Warm Wishes :)

 

The impact your letters to Congress can have…

January 22, 2010

This is a response someone received from the letter they sent to Congress urging their representatives to Sponsor the Justice for Survivors of Sexual Assault Act of 2009.

Dear (xxx):

Thank you for contacting me in support of H.R. 4114, the Justice for Survivors of Sexual Assault Act of 2009. I appreciate hearing from you and I welcome the opportunity to respond.

Like you, I believe that every person who has been a victim of rape deserves the best medical treatment and the best possible chance of justice. Every year, nearly 200,000 individuals report to the police that they have been raped. Almost all are asked to submit to the collection of DNA evidence from their bodies, which is then stored in a small package called a rape kit. However, there are currently thousands and thousands of kits that sit untested in police storage facilities while victims wait in vain for justice.

That is why I am a proud cosponsor of H.R. 4114, the Justice for Survivors of Sexual Assault Act of 2009, which was introduced by Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) on November 19, 2009. If enacted, this legislation would help reduce the national backlog of over 180,000 untested rape kits currently on police shelves by creating incentives for jurisdictions to eliminate their rape kit backlogs, process their incoming rape kits in a timely manner, and publicly report their backlog numbers. The bill will also address several other factors that work to deny justice to victims of sexual assault – including the denial of free rape kits to survivors of sexual assault and the shortage of trained health professionals capable of administering rape kit exams. This legislation is currently pending before the House Committee on Judiciary. Please be assured that I will keep our shared support for improving the process of bringing rapists to justice very much in mind as Congress continues to consider this issue.

Thank you again for contacting me. As your Representative in the United States Congress, it is a privilege and an honor to serve you and to act as your voice in Washington. Please feel free to contact me again with any other issue or matter that concerns you. You may also want to visit my website at http://www.house.gov/rothman where you can find out how I have voted on legislation, learn which bills I have introduced and cosponsored, and keep current with my latest Congressional activities and policy statements.

Sincerely,

Steve Rothman
Member of Congress

Human Rights Watch

January 22, 2010

I spoke with Sarah from Human Rights Watch this afternoon. Her and I are planning a trip to Washington DC in March to advocate for the Justice of Survivors of Sexual Assault Bill. Our focus will be on getting more co-sponsors in the House of Representatives…specifically from Ohio! There are currently 34 co-sponsors for the H.R.4114, non of which are from Ohio.

Congress has tried to address the issue regarding backlogged Rape Kits in the past (Debbie Smith Act) but the fact is it hasn’t had much effect. H.R.4114 would strengthen the Debbie Smith Act.

They are also still very interested in having me go to a recording studio to record my story.

WHAS 11 should be at my house in the next 30 to 60 minutes. It has been a crazy morning….but atleast the house is clean when they get here now :)

Promises Made….Promises Broken!!!

January 21, 2010

This is an article by Sarah from Human Rights Watch regarding the side effects from L.A. breaking their promise to test their 7,000 backlogged Rape Kits.

Read the Article at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sarah-tofte/city-breaks-its-promise-t_b_431276.html

Big Day Tomorrow…

January 21, 2010

It will be a busy and crazy day tomorrow. I am working in the morning. I then have a call with Sarah from Human Rights Watch about an Advocacy Tour to Washington DC, a special Audio Project, etc. After that I have to hurry up and get ready to tape the interview….clean the house, hair and makeup, find an outfit (NO IDEA WHAT TO WEAR). We will be taping part of the interview at my house then going over to the bowling alley and house where it happened. It should be interesting. I am hoping to get some plugs in for the Justice of Survivors of Sexual Assault Act of 2009…rather than just sharing my story.

I haven’t heard yet when it will air on TV. I know we were also hoping to get to go to the Kentucky Crime Lab to see the actual backlogged Rape Kits. We also talked about having me go to the Studio in Louisville when it airs. More to Come…I will make sure to let you know how it goes.


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