HEART Founder Urges Congress to Reduce DNA Case Backlogs by Reauthorizing the Debbie Smith Act

WASHINGTON, April 10 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Without federal reauthorization of the Debbie Smith Act, state and local governments will lose federal financial support for forensic DNA analysis after 2009.

To oppose such losses, Debbie Smith -- a rape survivor, rape victim advocate, and founder of Hope Exists After Rape Trauma (HEART) -- testified at a U.S. Congressional hearing today in Washington D.C. Debbie called on the federal government to help victims of violent crimes by reauthorizing funding for this important federal DNA backlog grant program, which was part of the Justice for All Act of 2004. At risk is this program's funding that state and local forensic laboratories depend upon to assist in reducing DNA backlogs and improving the use of DNA in the criminal justice system nationwide.

"If Congress does not authorize federal DNA funding at current or increased levels, the financial burden to reduce DNA-related case backlogs will inevitably shift to state and local governments that simply are not ready to handle this burden," said Debbie Smith. "Five years ago, the President of the United States and the U.S. Congress recognized the federal government's crucial role in supporting the use of DNA to solve violent crimes throughout the country, bring hope to victims, and exonerate the innocent. I know firsthand the power of this tool. We must continue to build on this progress to identify rapists and other criminals more quickly and, by all means, not allow backlogs to be an excuse for making victims wait, often in fear, while their attackers roam free."

Because of a significant DNA case backlog causing delays in the resource-constrained criminal justice system, Debbie Smith waited nearly seven years to find out the identify of her attacker. Her ordeal began on March 3, 1989 when Debbie was abducted from her Williamsburg, Virginia home, dragged into the woods and raped. The masked attacker warned Debbie not to report the crime, reminding her that he knew where she lived.

After the sexual assault, Debbie feared that her unknown attacker would return to further harm her or her family. The traumatic effect of the assault remained with Debbie and her family for almost seven years, and then her perpetrator was finally caught through the DNA database system known as CODIS (Combined DNA Index System). Years later, Debbie took her story to the U.S. Congress, and her efforts culminated in the Debbie Smith DNA Backlog program created by Congress on October 30, 2004.

"I commend Debbie Smith for having the courage to speak publicly about her ordeal, not only to Congress but also to the entire world," said Mary Lou Leary, executive director of the National Center for Victims of Crime. "She speaks for the millions of people who can't be present today to seek Congress's support for this vital program. Debbie is doing her part for victims who need timely processing of DNA evidence, and I hope that Congress will do theirs."

The Debbie Smith DNA Backlog Program has had a strong, positive impact on helping to reduce case backlogs over the past four years. This program authorizes Congress to spend over $150 million annually to reduce DNA backlogs. In 2004 it was estimated that over 500,000 rape kits and other unsolved crimes had DNA evidence yet to be tested.

The mission of H-E-A-R-T is to provide HOPE for victims of sexual assault through the provision of essential and therapeutic support, by affecting positive change in laws influencing their lives, and by educating both the public and professionals commissioned to serve victims. A vital issue in this matter involves the use of DNA. To enhance that use, H-E-A-R-T will promote the continued use of DNA, and through educating legislators, law enforcement officials, and others, promote its expanded use and continued improvement. H-E-A-R-T promotes victim empowerment and encourages the public to have a greater understanding of and respect for sexual assault victims.

The National Center for Victims of Crime is dedicated to forging a national commitment to help victims of crime rebuild their lives. The National Center's National Crime Victim Helpline, 1-800-FYI-CALL, offers victims supportive counseling, practical information about crime and victimization, referrals to local community resources, and skilled advocacy in the criminal justice and social service systems.

SOURCE The National Center for Victims of Crime

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