Trump Reauthorizes Debbie Smith Act to Eliminate Rape Kit Backlogs Across U.S.

President Donald Trump signed legislation Monday that allocates funding to help states clear the backlog of more than 100,000 rape kits across the country, ending several years of nationwide initiatives to get federal support.

The White House issued a statement Monday confirming the signing of H.R. 777, the Debbie Smith Reauthorization Act of 2019. The funding to state and local law enforcement aims to bring justice to sexual assault victims across the country whose untested rape kits have not undergone DNA testing to bring justice to unsolved cases.

The legislation is named for a 1989 rape victim whose evidence wasn't tested until 1994. It has provided hundreds of millions of dollars to fund DNA training and education programs among law enforcement, corrections personnel and court officers since first coming into law in 2004.

Proponents of the legislation highlight the importance of testing rape kits as soon as possible, given that statutes of limitations prevent of the prosecution of sexual assault cases in many states. Since 2005, the Debbie Smith Act and Sexual Assault Forensic Exam Grant Program have led to more than 40 percent of DNA matches, ABC News reported this week.

"We know that DNA is much more likely than fingerprints to result in the identification of a criminal, yet thousands of rape kits currently sit untested in labs and on police storage shelves across the Nation. The Debbie Smith Act originally became law to provide local and State crime laboratories the resources to end the backlog of untested DNA evidence from unsolved crimes," White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham wrote in a statement Monday.

The bill has previously been passed with wide bipartisan support, but Republican opposition to the Violence Against Women Act held it up in recent years. The vast majority of Republicans, 157, voted against reauthorizing that legislation amid pressures from the National Rifle Association over women's safety.

Grisham noted that the reauthorized act passed by Congress and signed by Trump provides an annual $151 million for the DNA Backlog Grant program. States including Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Virginia, Tennessee and California have backlogs of more than 5,000 untested rape kits according to the End the Backlog advocacy group.

On the state level this week, law enforcement in Maryland are required to submit all rape kits for testing as of January 1. The move comes nearly five years after the Maryland General Assembly first called for such a statewide inventory, The Washington Post reported.

According to the End the Backlog data, only a handful of states including Oregon, the Dakotas, South Carolina and Ohio have a backlog of fewer than 1,000 rape kits still awaiting testing.

rape kit debbie smith act
President Donald Trump reauthorized funding to help states clear the backlog of more than 100,000 rape kits across the country, despite previous GOP opposition to part of the allocation. XAVIER LEOTY / AFP / Stringer/Getty Images
Trump Reauthorizes Debbie Smith Act to Eliminate Rape Kit Backlogs Across U.S. | U.S.