Survivor’s Story: The Importance of Expanding the New York DNA Databank

Ann M. is the mother of a survivor who was raped when she was just 12 years old in her own home. Her family had to wait ten years for the perpetrator’s arrest. Ann, along with other courageous survivors, played an integral role in advocating for the recent passage of a law expanding New York State’s DNA Databank to include samples from offenders convicted of all crimes. We thank her for sharing her story and giving a voice to survivors across New York.

Many times over the course of the last couple of weeks, people have approached me regarding the passage of legislation expanding the New York State DNA Databank. Some have been congratulatory, some have been concerned, but, mostly, a great many have simply had more questions than anything else. To the ordinary person, DNA is something that you hear about on TV crime dramas or read about in biology class. Unfortunately, I didn’t come about my knowledge of DNA through either of those modes but, rather, through circumstances that I would give anything to change.

Eleven years ago, I was a stay-at-home mom, raising my children—two sons and two daughters—and living a rather ordinary life. That all changed in the blink of an eye. Early one morning, after my husband had left for work, a man carrying a knife broke into my home. The very first—and last—room that he came across was that of my 12-year-old daughter, asleep in her bed. He raped her, cut her and then robbed her. Before leaving our home, he told her that if she told anyone, he would return to our home and kill not only her, but our entire family.

After going through the difficult but necessary procedures that follow a rape—the hospital exam, the police sketches, the detective interviews—we returned to our home and our lives, and we began to wait. And wait we did. When the months began to turn into years, we did a DNA grand jury indictment, meaning the DNA evidence from the crime was indicted as a “John Doe” defendant, thereby lifting the burden—and fear—that the statute of limitations might come around before an arrest did. Then, we went home to wait. Again.

Despite a detective who never gave up hope, it was hard for us to remain optimistic. Keep in mind that my daughter and all of my children, were very much aware that the perpetrator was still out there—free—and in their minds, very capable of returning, as he had promised he would. Due to “hits” in the DNA Databank with evidence from other crime scenes, we knew the perpetrator was still in the area and had been linked to other rapes, but we did not know his identity. When you spend your life looking over your shoulder, everyone becomes a suspect and the concept of being safe at home doesn’t exist. This was how we lived our lives for ten years.

Miraculously, the day came that we never thought we would see—an arrest was made in my daughter’s case. The perpetrator wasn’t caught in the act of raping one of his subsequent victims. He was caught because he stole money from his employer—a petit larceny. For a decade, he wreaked havoc on countless lives and what finally put him behind bars was the theft of a few dollars.

As odd as it may sound, my family got lucky, if it’s even imaginable to use such a term. Our luck came from the fact that the misdemeanor for which he was convicted was, at the time, one of the few  convictions in New York State that required him to give a DNA sample. Had New York not expanded its DNA Databank in 2006 to include some misdemeanors, the man who raped my daughter might not have been found. Yet despite our relief, we knew that more needed to be done. New Yorkers shouldn’t have to get lucky to get justice and the law should require DNA samples be given upon conviction for all crimes.

To that end, countless people fought for years for the DNA Databank to include samples for all convictions. I am proud to say that Governor Cuomo signed the expansion into law last month. It was a huge victory for all families in New York State. Not only does it ensure violent criminals are held accountable, but it will also go a long way towards preventing crime in the first place.

The arrest of my daughter’s attacker came with the guarantee that he can no longer devastate other families. It’s hard to say how many would-be victims would have been saved by this one arrest from the life of fear and “not knowing” our family experienced. The passage of this legislation has the potential to save thousands the heartache my family has endured. It also offers protection and hope to the wrongfully accused. Its passage was long overdue.

While nothing can ever undo the hurt my family has suffered, this new law does guarantee that the residents of New York will be safer. It offers hope that fewer parents will ever know such sorrow, that fewer little girls will live their lives looking over their shoulders and that families are safer both on the streets and in their homes. As New Yorkers, we should settle for nothing less.

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