Sen. Cornyn Campaigning For 'SAFER' Act | KERA News

Sen. Cornyn Campaigning For 'SAFER' Act

Sep 18, 2012

A proposed law called the SAFER Act would almost double the amount of federal money used to test DNA evidence in rape kits. Across the nation there are an estimated 400-hundred thousand untested rape kits sitting on shelves. The law is designed to help end the backlog and resolve sexual assault cases faster.

Lavinia Masters was just 13 years old when a man broke into her Dallas home and brutally raped her. Police collected DNA evidence but her rape kit didn't get tested for 20 years. Years of fear for Masters.

Lavinia Masters: I contemplated suicide. I alienated myself from friends and loved ones, almost destroyed my marriage. It was a chaotic world for me.

While Masters thought police were looking for her perpetrator, her rape kit sat untouched because there are not enough labs or DNA analysts to test evidence. The statue of limitations ran out on Masters’ case before scientists could test her kit and she never got her day in court.

But 20 years after her horrific rape, police finally linked her DNA evidence to a convicted rapist serving time on another sexual assault.

Lavinia Masters: So to have DNA which I always say was a foot print from God in place and it identified my perpetrator, was a total sigh of relief and I was able to breathe and live my life again.

About 20-thousand rape kits sit untested in Texas. Senator John Cornyn says the SAFER Act he’s introduced is needed to solve the crimes and put rapists in jail.

Cornyn: My hope is we not only take people out of circulation earlier and protect prospective victims from being assaulted in the future but this also has a way of exonerating people who may be accused and who the DNA evidence would exclude.

Cornyn talked about the proposed law at the University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth which houses the Center for Human Identification. There, analysts test DNA from across the country and around the world.

Fort Worth Police Chief Jeff Halstead says DNA evidence recently helped put 35 felons behind bars.

Halstead: Without this partnership we would be struggling to find an efficient manner to serve our victims.

Lavinia Masters attacker’s DNA also linked him to the rape of an elderly woman.

Lavinia Masters: That was disheartening for me because if they had solved my crime somebody’s grandmother wouldn’t have experienced something so heinous as sexual assault. If passed, the SAFER Act will better track the DNA evidence of rapists and prioritize testing.