In the September issue of The Washingtonian, Harry Jaffe wrote about a series of sexual assaults and murders that took place in Illinois and Arlington between 2005 and 2010. The perpetrator, Jorge Avila Torrez, was a 20-year-old Marine stationed at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall in Arlington at the time of his first local assault, and he remained free to commit several more while his victim’s bedsheets sat in a DNA-testing logjam.
At the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) annual fundraiser last week, founder and president Scott Berkowitz talked about the work his group is doing to reduce the frequency with which that happens. As it turns out, Torrez’s case is not an anomaly.
In fact, Berkowitz said, “Right now, there are over 400,000 rape kits sitting in storage not being tested. Sometimes it’s because of a lack of money; other times it’s more complicated. Some places will only test a rape kit if they have a suspect in mind, for example, but if they didn’t wait, they might find that their results match other cases in the FBI’s database, and they could prevent future crimes.” Expedited testing like this might have prevented Torrez from assaulting several civilians in Northern Virginia after he killed a barracks neighbor in 2009, and Berkowitz says that since so many sexual assaults are committed by repeat offenders, this could be true very frequently.
So a bulk of RAINN’s advocacy resources are currently pointed toward passing the Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Registry Act—known as SAFER. The December 12 event was largely geared toward thanking senator Michael Bennet of Colorado and congressman Ted Poe of Texas for their work in moving it along. “The bill would give law enforcement incentives to audit what they already have, acknowledge the cases that remain outstanding publicly, and then test the rape kits they’re storing,” Berkowitz says.
He also notes that support for the bill and the cause in general have increased substantially in the wake of the Penn State scandal.
Case in point: Adam Richman, of Man vs. Food and Best Sandwich in America fame, was on hand last week to support RAINN, and he noted that the Penn State case was the catalyst for his involvement. “I remember that I was shooting in Milwaukee when the details of the Sandusky indictment came through, and like so many other people, it really hit home for me. So after my vitriolic feelings passed, I went looking for an organization that was doing great things with education and with helping victims, and I landed on RAINN because of their comprehensive approach.”
Richman chatted with guests, then hosted an auction, all along lauding the organization’s work. Though he is admittedly not the first person one might associate with RAINN’s work, Richman said that sexual abuse is an “everybody issue.”