Rape bill flap: Weed says Goode 'reckless'
Debbie Smith's rapist wasn't caught until six years after he brutally attacked her. The convicted felon's DNA matched that from Smith's rape kit, and he's now serving two life terms plus 25 years.
Smith, a Williamsburg resident, has become such an advocate for rape victims that HR 3214– a bill to provide funding for the more than 169,000 rape kits across the country that have never been processed– is called the Debbie Smith Act.
It has also become one of the first major issues in the upcoming race between Republican incumbent Congressman Virgil Goode and his Democratic rival, Al Weed.
The bill passed the House of Representatives 357-67 last November, but is now stalled in the Senate. Goode– along with just one other Virginia Congressman, Edward Schrock– voted against the bill, which Weed calls a "reckless" move.
"I have a wife. I have a daughter," says Weed, a Nelson County farmer. "This is a serious, serious issue. The numbers of violent crimes against women just scare me."
On April 9, Weed joined Charlottesville's Take Back the Night march and told the audience, "Virgil Goode's 'No' vote reverberates with a resounding message to women and children; he won't be there for you if you're raped. But I will be."
Goode won't support rape victims? Not everyone buys that– including Debbie Smith.
"I know he does, because he co-sponsored the bill the first time," says Smith. "It's kind of unfair not to show he voted on it the first time."
The new Debbie Smith Act includes the Innocence Protection Act, which gives prisoners access to DNA testing, and that's where Goode objects.
"The bill we voted on wasn't the Debbie Smith Act," says Goode. "It focused as much on criminals as it did on the victim. Even the National District Attorney's Association didn't support it."
Goode's concern was that some of the $1 billion funding to be spread over five years would go to groups that oppose the death penalty. "I support the death penalty," he says.
Weed opposes the death penalty.
Supporters of the Debbie Smith Act are disappointed to see it languishing in the Senate. That includes Charlottesville police forensics expert and Virginia DNA database pioneer Sgt. Ralph Barfield, who worked on the bill with Smith.
"In some states, unless the sheriff has enough money to pay for the victim's evidence kit, processing it doesn't happen," says Barfield. "We're very fortunate in Virginia that we're as progressive as we are."
How physical evidence recovery kits– PERKs– are processed varies dramatically around the country. "The big issue is there are no set standards," says Barfield. "It's crazy the difference between adjoining states."
Barfield calls the bill a "no brainer," and advises that at some point, "women have got to say 'enough is enough.' "
An estimated 300,000 DNA samples that have been collected from offenders sit untested, says Weed, and another one million convicted felon samples have not been collected as required by law.
Weed says the processing of 100 DNA samples would result in the immediate identification of 10 sexual predators.
"Victims are living in fear, and the guy could be in jail," says Smith.
Goode says he'd support the Debbie Smith Act as a stand-alone bill. "I want to see the perpetrators of rape severely punished and the victims of rape helped," he says.
So does Debbie Smith. "I'm not going away," she says.
Sgt. Ralph Barfield supports the Debbie Smith Act.
PHOTO BY JEN FARIELLO