April 22, 2021

Cortez Masto & Toomey Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Ensure Survivors of Sexual Assault Can Access Victims’ Benefits

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) re-introduced the Fairness for Rape Kit Backlog Survivors Act to ensure that survivors of sexual assault have access to the same benefits as victims of other crimes. As a result of rape kit backlogs across the country, many survivors of sexual assault are unable to access state crime victim compensation when they need it—when their kits are finally tested and matched. Cortez Masto’s bipartisan legislation would require state programs to allow victims to file for compensation without being unfairly penalized for delays due to rape kit backlogs. 

“Nevada’s work to clear its rape kit backlog in 2020 has resulted in 64 arrests and over 1,083 DNA matches. My legislation will allow these Nevadans who may have just learned about a DNA match or forthcoming prosecution to file for state compensation funding to cover mental health counseling, medical procedures, and other related support services, even if the backlog caused them to miss the original deadline to apply,” said Senator Cortez Masto. “Protecting survivors of sexual assault is a bipartisan priority, and I will continue working across the aisle to make sure survivors have the resources and federal support they need to seek justice.”

“Every year, thousands of rape kits go untested, delaying justice for victims,” said Senator Toomey. “This bipartisan bill helps lessen the ramifications of these backlogs by ensuring that victims can apply for and receive benefits and support services, even if their rape kit is delayed to a point that a victim missed the deadline to apply in their state. All victims deserve justice, so this bill is one small step Congress can take towards ensuring victims are properly supported. I hope my Senate colleagues will quickly approve this bill.”   

The Fairness for Rape Kit Backlog Survivors Act would prevent state victim compensation programs under the Victims of Crime Act from discriminating against survivors. This would ensure that when a law enforcement agency initiates a renewed investigation into a previously reported sexual assault after DNA testing or other evidence has revealed the identity of the offender, a victim would be eligible to apply for compensation, even if the deadline for submitting an application has passed. The bill gives states three years to update their laws or regulations to ensure fairness for survivors.

In 2019, Senator Cortez Masto helped pass legislation that allowed Nevada to clear its rape kit backlog in 2020. The Debbie Smith Act of 2019 reauthorized funding for the Debbie Smith DNA Backlog Grant Program and provided much-needed resources to state and local law enforcement agencies to complete forensic analyses of crime scenes and untested rape kits.