During my more than 25 years as Geauga County Prosecutor, I encountered my fair share of terrible crimes, but few haunt me more than those of sexual violence.
The sad reality is that these crimes are much more common than most people realize. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center reports that one in every three women and one in every six men experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetime.
The Ohio Office of Criminal Justice Services reported that in 2015 alone, there were 8,447 victims of sexual assault in the Buckeye State. And that’s not including the estimated 63 percent of sexual assaults that go unreported.
That’s why I’ve held forums in Northeast Ohio to hear from those who work every day to prevent sexual violence in our communities, like the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center, Case Western Reserve University Begun Center and the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office.
I’m also proud to have founded the U.S. House of Representatives’ Bipartisan Task Force to End Sexual Violence, which consistently holds roundtables and briefings to raise awareness about these horrific crimes and explores ways to eradicate them.
As a co-chair of the Task Force, one of my top priorities has been to focus federal efforts on tackling the nationwide sexual assault kit backlog.
Evidence obtained by sexual assault kits can be a powerful tool in solving and preventing crimes of sexual violence. However, it’s estimated that hundreds of thousands of kits sit untested across the country.
As a former prosecutor, I know that each of these untested kits represent real victims waiting for justice. What’s worse is that their perpetrators, if not brought to justice, often go on to commit subsequent crimes, including additional sexual assaults.
This cannot continue. We must end this backlog, improve public safety and rebuild trust in the system that has left survivors of these terrible crimes waiting for justice for far too long.
Accomplishing this will take a coordinated and committed effort from all levels of government across the country. That’s why I introduced a bipartisan resolution calling on states to inventory all untested sexual assault kits, submit previously untested kits to a laboratory and require DNA testing within a specific timeframe.
By implementing these commonsense reforms, we can help eradicate this backlog and give victims access to the justice they deserve.
Thankfully, progress has been made on this front here in Northeast Ohio. Just last year, the Cuyahoga County Sexual Assault Task Force announced it was nearing its indictment in its 800th victim’s case. In total, the Task Force has opened cases connected to over 7,000 sexual assault kits.
But we can’t stop there. Victims of sexual violence, harassment and/or abuse deserve nothing short of our relentless pursuit of justice. That’s why I recently co-sponsored a bill to combat sexual harassment and assault in the housing industry.
Currently, in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) annual reporting, sexual harassment and assault complaints are included among all complaints of discrimination based on sex. This makes it extremely difficult to truly understand how pervasive these crimes are in the housing industry.
The Preventing Sexual Harassment in Public Housing Act of 2020 would require HUD to report sexual harassment and assault incidents separate from other cases of discrimination based on sex. It would also codify into law the Department of Justice’s Sexual Harassment in Housing Initiative that was established in 2017. This initiative works to increase awareness about tenants’ rights and help prosecute cases of sexual harassment and violence in housing.
By increasing the accuracy of reporting and helping tenants understand their rights and ability to prosecute cases, we can do more to prevent and address cases of sexual harassment and assault in the housing industry.
While partisanship is becoming increasingly common in Congress, eliminating the threat of sexual violence that faces communities across the country is not a Republican or Democrat issue. It’s a human one.
I am proud to work for the people of Northeast Ohio and can assure you I will continue to do everything in my power to bring an end to sexual violence in our communities, support the victims of these despicable crimes and hold those who commit them responsible.
U.S. REP. DAVE JOYCE (R-Bainbridge Township) represents Ohio’s 14th District, which includes Ashtabula County.