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Proposed change to help ease rape kit DNA testing backlog

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A woman raped as a child is speaking out. Critical evidence in the attack sat in a room for more than two decades before it was tested. And by that time, her attacker had struck again and again.

For years we've been telling you about a massive backlog in the testing of rape kits. Victims have been living in fear, when the evidence that could lock up their attacker is set aside and stored. Now lawmakers are working on a possible solution.

In the city of Houston, there are more than 6,600 rape kits collecting dust on a police shelf. They've never been tested. This legislation aims to change that.

Rape survivor Lavinia Masters said, "If they had found him after he assaulted me, because a lot of the women were after me, maybe they could have stopped him."

Masters was raped when she was 13 years old.

She recalled, "A stranger broke into our home one night and raped me at knifepoint. My parents were sleeping upstairs. My siblings were on the floor."

For more than 21 years her rape kit went untested. Evidence untested and a crime unsolved. Nationwide there are 400,000 cases like hers. US Senator John Cornyn is introducing a bill to eliminate that backlog.

Sen. Cornyn said, "What I want to do is make sure that more of the money that the federal government spends -- it will be roughly $117 million this next year alone -- goes to testing these untested kits."

Right now roughly 40 percent of federal dollars go toward ending the rape backlog. That's under the Debbie Smith Act. The SAFER Act would amend current law, requiring that 75 percent of funds be used to analyze untested DNA evidence. It's money Masters says would be well spent.

She said, "No price tag should be put on my sanity, on my life, on my living, on my life after, on my happiness."

Senator Cornyn is touting Houston's efforts to help rape victims and shrink the backlog in this city.

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