Wrestler Mick Foley — whose meeting with Tori Amos and subsequent work for the Rape, Abuse & Incest Action Network that she co-founded was chronicled on Slate in September — joined RAINN, assault survivor-turned-advocate Julie Weil and “Private Practice” actress KaDee Strickland on Capitol Hill this week to push for passage of the Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Registry (SAFER) Act.
The legislation, originally co-sponsored by the unlikely duo of Reps. Ted Poe (R-TX) and Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), would, among other things, allocate $10 million a year for a national registry to chronicle the backlog in DNA testing on rape kits and allow local law enforcement to audit their backlogs.
In an exclusive interview with TPM, Foley explained his interest in the cause: “I came to feel that there were not many males out there talking about a problem that really does affect everybody. Statistically speaking, everybody knows somebody who’s been affected by rape and sexual assault whether they know it or not.”
Foley and Weil were “optimistic” that, despite the political shifts in Washington, the legislation could still move ahead. “I have to hope that the change in control of the House and the sizable shift in the Senate is not going to affect how people look at this,” said Foley, adding, “People love to see their leaders working together, and this could be an issue where there is no partisanship. It’s a pretty simple one.”
Weil, who has been driving around South Florida since the election to meet with Congress members to encourage them to support the bill, agreed. “Republicans and Democrats alike are eager to support the bill. What’s not to like about this? Who doesn’t want to help?” she said.
Weil noted that, if there were Republicans who wanted to argue that they couldn’t afford to fund the bill, there was a simple answer. “Rape costs America $127 billion a year, and the SAFER Act marks $10 million a year for increased funding,” she told me. Weil got her figures from the 1996 DOJ report “Victim Costs & Consequences: A New Look,” which calculated that non-fatal sexual assaults on adult victims cost American $127 billion a year, between medical expenses, loss of productivity and the cost to government of prosecution. Non-fatal child rape and sexual abuse was calculated to cost another $23 billion. RAINN calculates that the adult sexual assault rate has fallen by 60 percent since 1993 — but between inflation and the reduction in sexual assault since 1996, the total cost to society today is likely still over $100 billion in 2010.
Weil noted that resolving the backlog is so important because, “You can’t get justice without DNA, it’s just the way the world works now. Everyone expects to see DNA.” Foley said that anything that increases conviction rates would help victims and encourage more to come forward because, he said, currently “I think there’s a sense of hopeless among survivors, the ones that I deal with directly on the hotline, that there’s no sense putting themselves through another traumatic episode if the likelihood of this person being brought to justice is not good. “
The Joyful Heart Foundation’s End The Backlog project estimates there may be hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits around the country, noting that some municipalities have tens of thousands of backlogged rape kits — and in cities like New York and LA, those backlogs took dedicated funds to resolve. The JHF is working with “Law & Order: SVU” actress Mariska Hargitay to highlight the importance of ending the backlog.