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Cornyn pushes bill to eliminate rape kit backlog

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FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – A Fort Worth science center may play a major role in reducing the huge backlog of untested rape kits across the country… that is if legislation introduced by a Texas senator is approved.

On Thursday the Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to consider the Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Registry (SAFER) Act. The legislation introduced by Sen. John Cornyn is meant to ensure funds are being used properly to help eliminate the backlog of hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits, nationwide.

"What we've discovered is over the years less and less of the money is actually being used for the purpose for which it was intended," Cornyn said. "Now about 40-percent, roughly, of the funds are actually used to test rape kits."

While DNA evidence is collected with most every report of a rape the number of kits has overwhelmed police departments across the country, including those in Texas.

The backlog has left an estimated 400,000 rape kits sitting on shelves in evidence lockers.

Lavinia Masters of Dallas was raped at the age of 13 and her rape kit sat on a shelf for more than two decades.

"I lived a terrible life of fear as a child, because my rapist told me that if he saw the police come to our home that he would come back and kill me and my family, because he knew my family," she said speaking Monday.

Though Masters' kit was eventually tested the case did not end on a good note. The DNA profile of her attacker was eventually linked to a serial rapist, but not before the man had committed multiple sexual assaults and the statute of limitations on her case had run out.

Using Masters case as an example Senator Cornyn detailed the importance of rape kit testing, as a matter of public safety.

"The experience here is that once a rape kit's tested, involving a particular person, frequently it clears other crimes that have been committed," he said.

The University of North Texas Center for Human Identification in Fort Worth has been enlisted to and is now testing most rape kits in Texas. If Cornyn's bill passes the center could be enlisted to tests kits from across the country.

Earlier this year State Senator Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) spoke out on the need to clear the rape kit backlog. In May, Davis said there are tens of thousands of Texas rape kits and DNA samples that have never been tested.

"The estimate is that the backlog is about 20,000, maybe 30,000 or 40,000," she said. "Obviously that's alarming."

If approved, the SAFER Act would require that at least 75-percent of funds be spent directly on either analyzing untested DNA evidence or increasing the capacity of labs to do so.

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