I'm an actor. I get paid to do something I love. For the last four years, I've had the good fortune of playing the driven, no-nonsense Dr. Charlotte King on ABC's Private Practice. This season, my character was brutally raped. Her story is an examination of an unfortunate truth: it can happen to anyone, anywhere, anytime.
Rape is a violent crime that occurs every two minutes in the United States. It was my responsibility to be as accurate as possible in presenting what a rape victim experiences.
A large part of my research was enhanced by the generosity and openness of two women whom I met through RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization, who are both members of the RAINN Speakers Bureau. The insights each woman shared helped me to understand what they went through: physically, emotionally and spiritually. Our talks allowed me to see how being raped continues to affect their lives today.
In the critical moments following their attacks, these women went through the process of collecting DNA evidence, commonly known as getting a "rape kit." Then, both women had to wait.
One of these survivors waited for 10 years before DNA evidence linked her rapist to other attacks. Once the evidence was matched, the serial offender who raped both her and her roommate was convicted and put behind bars.
The other survivor had to wait even longer -- 18 years. She taught me that information is armor; it gives courage to victims to go forward and fight for their truth to be heard.
Unfortunately, when forensic evidence from a rape kit lingers on a shelf, cases are not solved and rapists are allowed to run free and strike again.
This should never happen.
That is why I am supporting the SAFER Act of 2011. The Act would create a national registry to track untested forensic evidence from sexual assault cases and set forth best practices for the use of DNA evidence in rape cases, thus establishing better standards for the tracking, storage and use of DNA evidence in sexual assault cases. Moreover, passage of the SAFER Act would empower survivors of sexual violence, allowing them to anonymously track the progress of forensic evidence in their own case online.
Today, only about 6% of rapists ever spend a day in jail. One major reason for this is the backlog in DNA testing from forensic evidence collected in rape kits.
I visited Capitol Hill on Wednesday to speak about the significance of testing rape kits, both to help survivors and to prevent future rapes. Only by testing the DNA from rape kits do victims -- including these two women I came to respect so much -- finally get justice.
It should not take 18 years, or even 10 years.
Having been blessed with such an important storyline on Private Practice, it is my hope to have increased the awareness of the devastating effects such a crime has on a survivor, as well as on his or her colleagues, family and friends. The positive response to our work on the show this season, and the increasing number of people seeking help, is the most rewarding experience of my career to date. I am extremely passionate about the next step -- improving the testing and use of DNA evidence.
Please support survivors of sexual violence by contacting your member of Congress and asking him or her to support the SAFER Act. The more active and vocal we are about how we can reduce the prevalence of this crime, the sooner constructive policy changes will come.
It is never too late to get help. If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual violence, contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline or the Online Hotline. Both are free, safe, confidential and available 24/7.