Neuman boosts 11-year-old girl’s efforts to help sexual assault victims

Timely testing of rape kits is nationwide goal via online funding campaign

HARRISBURG, Jan. 26 – State Rep. Brandon Neuman, D-Washington, today joined 11-year-old Madison Wertz of Lycoming County and the state auditor general’s office to launch a nationwide effort to help rape victims.

“Madison began a petition drive last year to raise funds to test backlogged rape kits in Pennsylvania, and today Auditor General Eugene DePasquale and I are helping her launch an online campaign to raise funds so sexual assault victims across the United States can receive the timely justice they deserve,” Neuman said. “It is a campaign deserving of everyone’s support.”

Neuman, whose Act 27 of 2015 spearheaded efforts to catalog and reduce the thousands of rape kits in Pennsylvania that had sat untested for more than 12 months, said he is urging House and Senate members to post the petition, “Funding the testing of Backlogged Rape Kits,” on their legislative websites and promote the campaign extensively.

“This is an issue that we can unite on,” said Neuman, who said underfunding of sexual assault investigations will be a topic during budget hearings that begin in February. “This is unacceptable as a civilized nation that we cannot put funds in place to make sure an issue like this is solved.”

Neuman was among the first officials signing the petition moments after participating in the Capitol news conference featuring Madison, a Williamsport-area sixth-grader, and the auditor general, who referred to Neuman as the “legislative champion” of efforts to end the backlog of untested kits in Pennsylvania.

“It’s not enough just to test the kits,” said Neuman, who is preparing legislation that would implement recommendations from the auditor general’s September 2016 special report on untested rape kits. “We need conclusive results from the testing.”

DePasquale, acknowledging that Pennsylvania faces a “tough budget,” said it would be a “moral failure if funding is not included” to further address testing backlogs and shortfalls in staffing, equipment and funding at public crime labs contributing to the delays.

“It’s not a heavy lift,” Depasquale said, explaining that each of the estimated 2,000 untested rape kits in Pennsylvania would cost $1,000 to $1,800 to test.

The strawberry blonde Madison explained at the news conference that she began her “Make a Change” petition drive to raise awareness and funding for untested evidence after watching a video examining the plight of sexual assault victims in Michigan.

Madison’s efforts to secure 750 signatures to date on her petition led to her nomination by her local newspaper as its Person of the Year, and prompted her father to say, “With Madison, everything is possible.”

“Do you want to live in a world that doesn’t take rape and violent crime seriously?” Madison asked the media center gathering.