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New bill seeks to ease backlog of rape kits

December 11, 2012 3:33:52 PM PST
Thousands of rape victims have been left without answers because of a backlog of rape kits that are still sitting untested. It's something we've been following for years, but a new bill hopes to get that changed.

With this new bill, some victims will be closer to getting justice because it aims to get some of the long-time unsolved cases off the books.

No one seems to have a firm answer as to how many rape kits are sitting in the city of Houston crime lab, but the backlog is estimated to be in the thousands. And the Texas congressman behind the SAFER Act hopes this proposed bill will get those kits finally tested.

It is no coincidence that one of the sponsors of the 2012 bipartisan Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Registry Act, or SAFER Act, is Congressman Ted Poe of Texas.

"Having spent 22 years on the bench in Houston and unfortunately meeting a lot of sexual assault victims," Poe said.

Poe introduced the bill to the U.S. House last week.

"We have that moral and legal responsibility to make sure the justice system works for sexual assault victims as well," Poe said.

In Houston, no one seems to know exactly how many rape kits still sit untested, but we know some of them decades-old.

Houston police declined our request for an interview, citing a review of the rape kit backlog.

"We actually cannot get any information from the director of the crime lab with respect to their backlog," Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos said.

Lykos didn't know the answer either.

"There may be 3,000 or 4,000 untested rape kits in a freezer, maybe an equal amount in an air-conditioned facility, and there could be others somewhere else," she said.

And without test results, Lykos says the DA's office can't prosecute.

The bill calls for grants for one-year audits of rape kit backlogs and would create a sexual assault forensic evidence registry of the status of the kits -- tested or untested.

Poe hopes the bill will be on the president's desk by the end of the year.

Lykos says clearing the backlog could help put rapists behind bars, even if they are caught long after the 10-year statute of limitations is up.

"You could have indicted the DNA sequence so then there would be no issue of the statute of limitations," Lykos said.

The SAFER Act would also require at least 75 percent of the money already allocated for rape kit testing by an earlier law be spent on actual testing.

The SAFER Act is currently in front of a House subcommitee.


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