Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) introduced the Fairness for Rape Kit Backlog Survivors Act of 2020 to ensure that survivors of sexual assault have fair access to benefits for crime victims. As a result of rape kit backlogs across the country, many survivors of sexual assault lose eligibility to apply for state victim compensation programs due to state time limits that are shorter than the amount of time the survivors have to wait for their rape kits to be tested. This bipartisan legislation would require that state programs allow victims to file for compensation after the deadline if the delay is a result of a backlog in testing or matching DNA evidence.
“While states across the country have made great strides in testing hundreds of thousands of rape kits in recent years, it’s unacceptable that delays in testing have prevented some survivors of sexual assault from benefiting from state victim compensation programs,” said Senator Cortez Masto. “Survivors should not have to bear the burden of out-of-pocket costs, such as mental health counseling, lost wages, and other expenses, due to delays outside of their control. Our bill makes it clear that justice delayed should not result in assistance denied by ensuring that sexual assault survivors remain eligible to apply for compensation after state program deadlines have passed.”
“Rape is an appalling, heinous crime and victims deserve justice and our support,” said Senator Toomey. “The fact that there are backlogs in testing rape kits, which are often used in the fight for justice, is entirely inexcusable. 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.”
“The rape kit backlog represents a failure of the criminal justice system to protect survivors and hold perpetrators accountable,” said Ilse Knecht, Director of Policy & Advocacy at Joyful Heart Foundation. “Reforms being implemented across the country not only take dangerous criminals off the streets — they create a pathway to justice for sexual assault survivors whose cases have languished, often for years—or even decades. But state laws have not kept up with reform efforts, and have barred survivors from accessing victim compensation earmarked to provide survivors of violent crime with funds to aid their recovery. The Joyful Heart Foundation, a national organization focused on ending the rape kit backlog, is proud to support the Fairness for Rape Kit Backlog Survivors Act of 2020, which takes critical steps to address this barrier to support for survivors.”
The Fairness for Rape Kit Backlog Survivors Act of 2020 would require that state victim compensation programs under the Victims of Crime Act provide a waiver for victims who file for compensation after a state deadline if the delay is a result of a backlog in testing or matching DNA evidence. This would ensure that when a renewed investigation into a previously reported sexual assault is initiated by a law enforcement agency 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 supported the Debbie Smith Act of 2019, which passed unanimously to reauthorize funding for the Debbie Smith DNA Backlog Grant Program and give much-needed resources to state and local law enforcement agencies to complete forensic analyses of crime scenes and untested rape kits.