“After he let me live I wished he killed me.”
Such were Debbie Smith’s words after describing a rape she endured nearly 20 years ago when a masked man abducted her from her home and took her to a nearby woods where he repeatedly raped her.
Early this week, Smith took to Capitol Hill to share her story with a Senate panel in an attempt to urge them to eliminate the startling backlog of untested rape kits in the U.S.
Exactly how many rape kits are we talking about?
A 5-month CBS investigation revealed that more than 20,000 rape kits in major American cities have gone untested and another 6,000 are sitting in crime labs waiting months, if not years, to be tested.
“Can you imagine going through an exam like what goes on in one of those things for nothing? To know that you were just traumatized again, for it to sit on a shelf, it’s not fair,” Smith said.
INo, it’s not fair or just.
While the rape kits pile up in labs across the country, rapists walk free and in many cases go on to rape others. In fact, research shows that 71% of rapists are repeat offenders.
In cities where rape kits are tested in a timely manner, however, the results are stunning. In New York City, for example, where every rape kit is tested, the arrest rate for rape is 70% – that’s nearly triple the national average.
New York City has proved that testing rape kits helps convict rapists who otherwise might have found other victims. Allowing rape kits to collect dust in crime labs not only prevents women from seeking justice, it endangers others from being raped by someone who should be in jail.
“Each box holds within it vital evidence that is crucial to the safety of women everywhere,” a tearful Smith said at the hearing where several senators called for the need to strengthen a 2005 bill (named after Smith) aimed at reducing the backlog of untested rape kits.
Doing so is imperative for women’s safety in this country – a country where last year nearly 90,000 women reported being raped and another estimated 75,000 attacks went unreported. A country where in that same year the rate of rape related arrest was just 25% while the rate for murder was 79% and aggravated assault was 51%.
Women deserve to live in a country where they can come forward and report a rape knowing that they will be taken seriously, that if they choose to endure a rape kit it is not for naught.
Women deserve a chance at justice.
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