On Wednesday, Auditor General Eugene DePasquale celebrated that the national Change.org petition he created with 11-year-old Madison Wertz to fund testing of backlogged rape kits, flew past its initial goal of 25,000 signatures.
“As of 4:20 p.m., we had more than 31,000 signatures,” DePasquale said. “It’s been an amazing two weeks. It’s clear this issue has struck a nerve all across the nation.”
Just between the hours of 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., the petition drew signatures from all 50 states and the District of Columbia, as well as from signers in countries such as the United Kingdom and New Zealand.
The petition, begun Jan. 26, calls for each state to pass legislation that:
- fully funds the testing of its untested rape kits;
- requires uploading all usable DNA evidence into CODIS, the federal database that matches DNA to identify serial offenders; and
- prevents such a backlog from every occurring again.
“The outpouring of support and encouragement for Madison has been just incredible,” DePasquale said of the Williamsport-area sixth-grader. “From the petition website itself to social media sites such as Facebook, people have been heralding Madison as an inspiration for leading the charge on such an important issue.”
Now that it has surpassed its signature goal, the petition will be sent to all 50 U.S. governors, as well as members of the U.S. House and U.S. Senate. DePasquale will also send a letter to each of the governors, urging them to push for legislation in their home states. However, he is encouraging the public to continue signing and sharing the petition.
“This began with a clipboard held by one determined girl asking for signatures,” DePasquale said, “and it has grown into a national conversation. Madison and I want to see justice served for rape victims — and we’ve learned that we are by no means alone in that desire.”
In September 2015, DePasquale released a 70-page special report on the 3,102 rape kits awaiting testing in Pennsylvania, including 1,852 that were backlogged (were awaiting testing for more than 12 months). DePasquale is also working with state Rep. Brandon Neuman, who sponsored the initial legislation that required the annual rape kit count. Neuman is seeking co-sponsors for legislation that would implement recommendations from DePasquale’s special report, including creating a commission of local and state agencies to meet annually and determine exactly what resources and funding are needed to prevent kits from being backlogged.