News & Politics

RAINN Celebrates Progress in Assault Investigation, Honors Advocates on the Hill

The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network’s fundraiser last week featured a push to get a national backlog of more than 400,000 untested rape kits processed.

Rogue 24’s R.J. Cooper and Bryan Tetorakis with Adam Richman. Photograph by Amber Reinink.

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

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.”