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Politics & Government

Auditor General, 11-Year-Old Activist Pair Up To Address Rape Kit Backlog

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PA Auditor General
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Auditor General Eugene DePasquale and 11-year-old Williamsport area resident Madison Wertz begin a nationwide Change.org petition calling on all states to fund rape kit testing.

A sixth-grader from Lycoming County has collected 750 signatures on a petition calling for all of the unprocessed rape kits in the state to be tested and the state’s auditor general wants to stand behind her effort.

A 2015 Pennsylvania law required all new rape kits collected by police to be tested within six months. But many of the older DNA specimens are still sitting on shelves. In fact, End The Backlog estimates 3,000 rape kits are sitting untested in Pennsylvania. Some of them have been on shelves for more than a decade.

“I ask myself everyday, ‘What kind of world would I want to live in?’” said 11-year-old Madison Wertz at a recent news conference in Harrisburg. “And now I ask you, do you want to live in a world that doesn’t take rape and sexual assault seriously?”

In an effort to increase public awareness and send a message to lawmakers, Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale posted Madison’s petition at change.org and said he will send it to every U.S. governor and state legislature when it receives 25,000 virtual signatures.

DePasquale said it takes between $1,000 and $1,800 to process a kit, but $30 to $54 million from a $32 billion state budget is nothing compared to the impact it could have.

“You’re not just bringing them to justice in that instance, but you’re preventing them for doing it to women in the future as well,” DePasquale said.

State revenues this year are running behind projections and Gov. Tom Wolf is expected to address that when he presents his 2017-18 budget next month.

“I know it will be a tight budget," DePasquale said. "But it will be a moral failure of this legislature if funding for this issue is not included."

State Representative Brandon Neuman (D-Washington County) said he will champion the effort in the house.

“This is an issue that we can unite on and an issue that we can resolve," he said. "And where we can fund this policy to end the backlog.”

Madison Wertz said she first began thinking about the need to work through the backlog after watching a TNT TV show on the backlog of rape kits in Flint Michigan.

She is asking adults in what kind of world they want to live.

“Do you want to live in a world where victims of sexual crimes find justice in less than 10 percent of cases?  This is the world we live in and I think it has to change,” she said.