WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Nothing is more destructive to human dignity than sexual assault.
For those whose lives have not been shattered by this crime, rape and other acts of sexual violence may seem remote. Or perhaps, given the obscene and brutal nature of these crimes, people cannot bear to give them the thought and scrutiny they demand.
But we do a great disservice to the victims, and a great disservice to justice, if we do not address this problem with swift and clear action.
April is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and there is no better time to take a stand against this crime.
Congress is currently considering legislation known as the Justice for All Reauthorization Act that would extend important legal tools to continue the fight against sexual violence and deliver justice for its victims.
The House has taken the first step by renewing the Debbie Smith Act, a portion of the Justice for All Reauthorization Act that helps law enforcement identify rapists through the testing of crime scene DNA evidence.
Now, the Senate must act.
The prevalence of sexual assault is appalling.
Roughly every other minute, someone in the United States is sexually assaulted. That amounts to more than 230,000 assaults a year.
One out of every six women in this country is the victim of rape or attempted rape, and nearly half of all rape victims are younger than the age of 18. Yet it's estimated that only 40 percent of rapes are reported to authorities, and a mere three percent of rapists ever see the inside of a prison cell.
Victims who do report acts of sexual assault undergo an extensive and invasive examination to collect and document as much evidence as possible about the crime and the perpetrator. This evidence is stored and preserved in what is commonly referred to as a rape kit. It must then undergo testing in order to attempt to identify the assailant.
In recent years, the backlog of untested rape kits has grown to unconscionable proportions.
Estimates of the nationwide backlog are in the hundreds of thousands, with Texas at one time accounting for roughly 20,000 of them.
Each kit that collects dust in a laboratory or on an evidence-locker shelf represents denied justice and the threat of repeat assaults.
Fortunately, we have made substantial progress in the fight to eliminate this unacceptable backlog.
In fact, Texas has become a leader among the states in this regard.
Within the last year, Houston has eliminated its backlog; San Antonio and Dallas are each well on their way.
A major reason for this has been the Justice for All Act and the Debbie Smith Act, which passed Congress and were signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2004.
Together, these bills and subsequent pieces of legislation provided law enforcement with invaluable resources to test rape kits, end the backlog and bring justice for victims.
They've identified scores of serial rapists and prevented untold numbers of future assaults.
While we should be proud of the law's success, our work is not over.
Many provisions of the Justice for All Act and the Debbie Smith Act will expire at the end of September if Congress does not take action to reauthorize them. The House has taken the first step, and now it is time for Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Democrats to bring this legislation to the Senate floor.
Let's unite for the public good, for the justice these victims deserve and for the sake of what is right and moral.