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On the Subject of the DNA Sexual Assault Justice Act of 2002

Statement of Susan Herman, Executive Director, National Center for Victims of Crime, Before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs

May 14, 2002

Chairman Biden and members of the Subcommittee, we appreciate the opportunity to offer testimony on the DNA Sexual Assault Justice Act of 2002. The National Center for Victims of Crime supports this bill, and believes it will make significant improvements to the collection and processing of DNA evidence, bringing relief to countless victims of sexual assault and other crimes.

Nationwide, cold cases are being solved as DNA from crime scenes and rape kits are matched to DNA profiles in databanks. At the same time, according to the Department of Justice, hundreds of thousands of DNA samples from rape kits, crime scenes, and offenders remains untested. This bill would provide additional funding for laboratories to process DNA evidence.

We know from the experience of state DNA databanks that processing the backlog of existing rape kits and offender samples would close potentially thousands of cases, bringing perpetrators to justice and bringing relief to victims. In addition, numerous studies of convicted rapists have found that many such offenders committed multiple assaults, ranging from an average of 7 to 20 sexual assaults per offender. Thus, the earlier, successful identification and prosecution of sex offenders that would be possible with the processing of DNA evidence would likely prevent additional assaults.

The National Center also applauds the bill's creation of a grant program to improve the responses to and investigation of sexual assault cases, through sexual assault examiner programs and training, law enforcement training, and forensic equipment. Sexual assault nurse examiners are trained to perform rape exams in a way that not only preserves the evidence of the assault, but minimizes the trauma to the victims. Similarly, training of law enforcement personnel can also increase their sensitivity to the needs of sexual assault victims, as well as improve the collection of evidence. Therefore, this grant program will not only improve the quality and reliability of the evidence collected, but minimize the additional suffering of sexual assault victims. In turn, the improved treatment of victims may increase their willingness to participate in the investigation and prosecution of the case.

The bill would also permit the use of so-called "John Doe" warrants, permitting the filing of an indictment describing the accused as a person with a particular DNA profile. The use of such warrants can serve to avert the expiration of the statute of limitations in cases where an offender is unknown by anything other than the DNA profile contained in the evidence collected. While the National Center supports this provision, we urge Congress to go further, and eliminate the criminal statute of limitations for serious sex offenses.

At least 19 states have no statute of limitations for the prosecution of serious sex offenses. At least 12 more have extended their criminal statutes of limitation for sex offenses where there is DNA evidence. Because sex offenders pose a continuing danger to society, and because of the terrible and lifelong impact of sexual assault on victims, there should be no limitation on the prosecution of such crimes.

The National Center applauds Senator Biden and the Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs for taking on the issue of the backlog in DNA analysis of rape kits and offender samples, and improving the investigation and prosecution of sexual assault cases with DNA evidence. We
call on Congress to adopt the DNA Sexual Assault Justice Act of 2002, and appropriate the funding to implement its provisions.