On June 15, 2011, representatives from Joyful Heart joined a statewide coalition of advocates, law enforcement officials, survivors and policymakers in Albany, New York State’s capital city, to advocate for legislation to expand New York State’s DNA Databank. We met with representatives from both political parties in the Senate and Assembly, as well as members of the press.
We went with a simple message: pass legislation to collect DNA samples from more convicted criminal offenders.
New York’s DNA Databank is a powerful and cost-effective crime-solving tool. Since New York established its Databank in 1996, thousands of crimes—including 3,353 sexual assaults and 800 murders—have been solved using DNA evidence in the Databank and many, many more have been prevented.
Currently, New York law allows for collection of DNA from offenders convicted for only 48% of all crimes. We know how important DNA can be in bringing about justice for survivors of sexual assault, and how important justice can be in the healing process. Solving each one of these cases brings a measure of healing to survivors and their families.
At a press conference at the Capitol led by Linda Fairstein, a national expert on criminal justice issues and Joyful Heart founding Board Member, two courageous survivors spoke about their experiences waiting for justice and living in fear. One of those survivors lived through a horrific assault in her home in 2006. Though her attacker had been convicted of a low-level offense in 2003, the law did not require him to give a DNA sample. He went on to attack six other innocent people before he was finally convicted of an assault that required him to submit DNA, which linked him to the terrible acts of violence he inflicted on his victims. Speaking about her case publicly for the first time, the brave survivor implored lawmakers to pass legislation that would require more convicted offenders to submit DNA samples:
“He took more than my personal property and jewelry. He took my peace of mind and security of my own home, throwing off his bloody clothes with literally throngs of police, helicopters and dogs at his back. My peace of mind remained shattered for 14 long months until his arrest in October of 2007. The tragedy is that the horrors this man went on to commit against other innocent people during that 14 months never had to happen… He wasn’t in the DNA Databank, so he remained free.
"We’re not asking a lot of our legislators. The DNA database has never been compromised. No information from it will be used except to match suspects to crime scenes. So many horrible crimes can be stopped before they happen if we take a DNA sample from everyone convicted of a crime… Just please, do it: pass this law.”
Mariska Hargitay, Joyful Heart’s Founder and President, prepared a statement underscoring the importance of this initiative. In her statement, read by Linda Fairstein at the press conference, Mariska expressed:
“I am proud to stand with survivors, advocates and members of the criminal justice community to support the expansion of the New York State DNA Databank to send a powerful message to survivors: ‘We hear you. You have suffered enough. Your healing—and pursuit of justice—are our priorities.’”
Lawmakers listened to our message and the stories of survivors. Coalitions of victims’ groups from throughout the state have put their support behind expanding the Databank, as have New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Governor Andrew Cuomo. In a letter address to Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, the Governor wrote:
“Together we share the sober responsibility of keeping New Yorkers safe from harm and ensuring justice for all of us. No single tool has been more important than DNA in making certain that we discharge this responsibility fairly, swiftly and effectively…The time has come to say simply: Yes. We know what works. Now, let’s do what works.”
We are hopeful that the Senate and Assembly will pass this legislation in the 2012 legislative session. Not only would expanding the DNA Databank prevent countless future violent crimes, it would bring healing and justice to survivors and families of victims whose cases remain unsolved.
You can read more about this issue and our efforts in various news outlets, including The New York Times, the New York Post, the Times Union, and the New York Daily News.
To view a message from Mariska and to help this year's effort to expand the New York DNA Databank, click here.