Natasha’s life changed because she was the prey of a sexual predator. Here’s the beginning of her dramatic story:
“In 1993, I was violently raped, sodomized and robbed at gunpoint by an unknown assailant. When I escaped and thankfully found myself in my apartment, my roommate insisted that I go to the hospital. I agreed to wait for an ambulance, even though my first instinct was to take a shower. I’m so grateful that I made that choice to go to that hospital.”
Natasha is one of many victims of this barbaric and dastardly crime. According to information released by Centers for Disease Control, nearly one in five women in America has been raped at some point in their lives. As both a former prosecutor and a judge in Texas, I was involved with the criminal trials of rape cases for 30 years.
I learned firsthand the devastation that sexual assault victims experience, and I understand and learned that sexual assault does not just physically harm the victim; it harms their entire being both physically emotionally, and mentally; and the pain sometimes lasts forever. Rapists try to steal the soul from their victims, and they try to destroy the self-worth of victims, and sometimes they do.
One of those most critical pieces of evidence for rape trials is the rape kit, a tool that gathers forensic evidence, including DNA evidence, to link the rapist to the crime. But, unfortunately, rape kits often languish in evidence rooms across the United States, some untested for years, some discarded before ever being tested, and some gather dust so long that the statute of limitations on the crime of rape has expired and the criminal can never be prosecuted. This not ought to be.
Natasha’s story did not end in that cold hospital examination room. She says further:
“Ten years later, in 2003, I received a call from the New York City District Attorney’s office. My rape kit, which unbeknownst to me had been sitting on a shelf for almost 10 years, had at last been finally processed. I had long since reconciled the fact that my perpetrator would never be held accountable for his actions. But now there was hope. After a long trial, Victor Rondon was tried before jury of his peers in 2008 and was found guilty on all eight counts of violent assault against me. He’s in jail now for a long time. The best part for me is that he can never hurt anyone else. My rape kit sat on a shelf for many years. It was not just a number in a police department. My rape kit was me – a human being. Every rape kit that sits on a shelf somewhere is a human being.”
Natasha’s story humanizes rape kits ignored in evidence rooms throughout the country. Victims of sexual assault deserve justice, and their perpetrators deserve to be punished by courts and juries in America.
Stories like Natasha’s compelled Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney from New York and me to introduce the Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Registry Act, the SAFER Act, in the House, and Senators Cornyn and Bennett to introduce the same bill in the Senate. This bill would allow existing funds to be used to provide grants to States and localities to audit their rape kit backlog and also would call upon the Attorney General to create an Internet-based rape kit registry for sexual assault evidence testing. Estimates of untested rape kits are as high as 400,000 in American according to Human Rights Watch.
According to the DOJ’s National Institute of Justice, 43 percent of the Nation’s law enforcement agencies don’t even have a computerized system to track forensic evidence, either in their inventory or after it is sent to a crime lab. The SAFER Act would allow criminal evidence to be prosecuted and processed, and these do-bads to be held accountable for their dastardly deeds.
The insensitive say there’s no money for these exams, these rape kit tests. Well, Congress needs to find the money to maybe, instead of sending money to foreign countries to help them, keep some of that money in America to help American rape victims like Natasha. Help them get justice. Because, justice is what we do in America.
And that’s just the way it is.