Lobbying to Reduce the Rape Kit Backlog

Laura Strickler is a CBS News producer based in Washington, DC.

This week, Valerie Neumann, a rape victim who was profiled in a CBS News investigation into the national rape kit backlog, is pounding the halls of Congress asking dozens of lawmakers to support legislation that will require DNA from all rape kits to be tested.

Valerie Neumann, (left) television actress Mariska Hargitay and Human Rights Watch Researcher Sarah Tofte. 

Although semen was found in Valerie's rape kit, the local prosecutor would not test the DNA to see if it matched the suspect citing cost and his office's reluctance to prosecute.

"Everyone keeps thanking me for sharing my story and I just want to thank them for listening," Neumann told CBS News while she waited outside Ohio Democratic Congressman John Boccieri's office for another meeting, "It's been a really great experience."

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Neumann is accompanied by her father and by rape kit backlog expert Sarah Tofte of Human Rights Watch whose research has brought the issue national attention. Tofte was also profiled in the CBS investigation.

Tofte and Neumann teamed up after the story aired. The two will also be visiting lawmakers along side television actor Mariska Hargitay from the television show Law and Order: Special Victims Unit who joins them today.

Hargitay is in town meeting at the White House and with members of Congress to urge efforts to reduce the rape kit backlog. The actor started the Joyful Heart Foundation in 2004 to help survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse.

The CBS News investigation in November, 2009 found over 20,000 rape kits nationwide were never sent to crime labs to be tested and thousands more sent to the crime lab languished for years without testing: in Alaska up to three years, in Louisiana up to eight years. In three cases, CBS News found that prosecution of serial rapists were delayed due to backlogs at crime labs.

Just this week the testing of a moldy untested rape kit found in a suburban Chicago police department led to new charges against a man about to be released on parole. Police say the man sexually assaulted a 13-year-old-girl four years ago but prosecution of the case was stalled until the rape kit was tested.