During my more than 25 years as Geauga County prosecutor, I encountered my fair share of terrible crimes, but few haunt me more than those of sexual violence.
The sad reality is that these crimes are much more common than most people realize. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center reports that one in every three women and one in every six men experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetime.
The Ohio Office of Criminal Justice Services reported that in 2015 alone, there were 8,447 victims of sexual assault. And that’s not including the estimated 63 percent of sexual assaults that go unreported.
That’s why I’ve held forums in Northeast Ohio to hear from those here at home who work every day to prevent sexual violence, like the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center, Case Western Reserve University Begun Center and the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office.
I’m also proud to have founded the U.S. House of Representatives’ Bipartisan Task Force to End Sexual Violence. Since its inception in April 2017, the task force has held numerous roundtables and briefings to raise awareness and discuss various issues pertaining to sexual violence, such as sexual abuse and harassment, online abuse and more, and explored ways to eradicate these horrific crimes.
We’ve already held two roundtables this Congress, including one just the other week where we addressed the 13-percent spike in reports of sexual assault in the military last year.
As a co-chair of the task force, one of my top priorities has been to focus federal efforts on tackling the nationwide sexual assault kit backlog.
We know that evidence obtained by sexual assault kits can be a powerful tool in solving and preventing crimes of sexual violence. However, it’s estimated that hundreds of thousands of kits sit untested across the country.
As a former prosecutor, I understand all too well that each of these untested kits represent real victims waiting for justice. What’s worse is that perpetrators of sexual violence, if not brought to justice, often go on to commit subsequent crimes, including additional sexual assaults.
We cannot allow this to continue.
We must end this backlog, improve public safety and rebuild trust in the criminal justice system that has left survivors of these terrible crimes waiting for justice for far too long.
This is not an easy task — it will take a coordinated and committed effort from all levels of government and communities across the country. That’s why earlier this year, I introduced a bipartisan resolution to urge states to implement commonsense reforms to eradicate the backlog and give victims access to the justice they deserve.
The resolution calls for states to inventory all untested sexual assault kits, submit previously untested kits to a laboratory and require DNA testing within a specific timeframe. It would also call for them to work with survivor advocates, sexual assault nurse examiners, law enforcement and others to ensure the response to sexual violence is victim-centered and collaborative.
There’s been a lot of progress on this front in our own communities. Earlier this year, the Cuyahoga County Sexual Assault Task Force announced it was nearing its indictment in its 800th victim’s case. In total, the task force has opened cases connected to over 7,000 sexual assault kits.
While the task force’s relentless pursuit of justice for victims of sexual assault is nothing short of admirable, the fact of the matter is that we still need to do more to prevent acts of sexual violence and other crimes that overwhelmingly target women in our communities, like domestic violence.
That’s why I proudly voted to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act for five years in 2013 and why I just voted earlier this year to reauthorize it for another five years.
While partisanship is becoming increasingly more common in Congress, I refuse to allow politics to prevent me from doing everything I can to eradicate the threats facing our communities.
I am proud to work for the people of Northeast Ohio and can assure you I will continue to do everything in my power to bring an end to sexual violence in our communities, support the victims of these despicable crimes and hold those who commit them responsible.
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