'Melissa's Law' designed to get thousands of rape victims justice


Victims of sexual assault asked lawmakers for justice Tuesday, sometimes years in the making.

There are thousands of untested rape kits in Oregon, sitting on shelves deep in police evidence rooms. A new law could change that.

Melissa's Law is named in honor of Melissa Bitler, 14, who was raped and killed in 2001. Her death helped reveal Portland police had a huge backlog in untested rape kits, with nearly 2,000 still to be tested.

The law would require departments to test every kit. The driving force behind it is a woman named Brenda Tracy, who survived a rape two decades ago.

And when she finally built up the courage to seek justice, Tracy learned she would never get it because her kit was thrown out.

"I have to say I struggle with it a lot even today. I struggle with it because I don't understand how the people who are put in a position to protect you, don't. I still can't understand why anyone would do that," Tracy said. "I have zero doubt in my mind we will find a serial rapist in our back log. I'm absolutely sure of it."

The most cited reason departments do not test kits is that there is a lack of resources. Advocates feel police need to place a priority on victims of sexual assault.

"Victims who are courageous enough to go to a hospital and undergo this invasive and traumatic exam - if they want that kit tested and want to seek justice - that kit should be tested," Tracy said.

Senate Bill 1571 would not only end the backlog, but set up a system so there is oversight and accountability, so it does not happen again.

Other states that have passed similar laws have been successful, in some cases getting serial rapists off the streets.

Bitler's mother, Mary, and Tracy both testified before an Oregon Senate committee Tuesday.

While the bill works its way through the Legislature, state police are already working on protocols to get the kits tested and prioritize the ones closest to being in jeopardy of the statute of limitations.

close video ad
Unmutetoggle ad audio on off