Glossary of Terms



This term refers to a person who supports victims through stages of the criminal justice process.  In some jurisdictions, victims have a right to have an advocate present when they report a sex crime.



The Oxford Dictionary defines backlog as “an accumulation of something, especially uncompleted work or matters that need to be dealt with.”  It suggests the following sentence to illustrate the meaning of the word: “The company took on extra staff to clear the backlog of work.”  For victims who surrendered their bodies to law enforcement post-rape and later learned that law enforcement chose not to investigate their complaints, the word “backlog” is a cruel joke.

Ignoring all accounts that law enforcement agencies systematically neglect these cases, the false rape kit “backlog” narrative has a life of its own.  It is dangerous because it furnishes excuses for failing systems. Some of the most common examples are the notions that police “discover” untested rape kits somewhere; that a lack of access to DNA technology and infrastructure prevents the enforcement of laws against sex crimes; and that funding shortages explain law enforcement’s failure to process rape kits.


Crime lab 

This term can describe any lab that law enforcement uses to process forensic evidence.  States and some local agencies have their own crime labs.  Law enforcement also contracts with private labs for needed forensic work.


The Combined DNA Index System.  This is the generic term used to refer to FBI’s program of support for criminal justice DNA databases as well as the software used to run these databases.  The National DNA Index System (NDIS) is the national database containing submitted from federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. The NDIS was created by the DNA Identification Act of 1994.

Cold case 

While the definition of a cold case varies from local agency to local agency, the NIJ currently defines “cold case” as “any case whose probative investigative leads have been exhausted.”  Also called a “no suspect case.”

Cold hit 

In a case in which law enforcement does not identify a suspect after exhausting all investigative leads, but forensic evidence is gathered from the crime scene (in a rape case, the crime scene is the victim’s body), law enforcement can process such evidence for DNA.  If a DNA profile is obtained, law enforcement can search DNA databases of offenders (including individuals who have been arrested for certain crimes and individuals who have been convicted) to identify a suspect.  According to the FBI, a cold hit occurs when such a search process obtains a match of the evidence sample profile (often called the “forensic sample profile”) with the DNA of an offender profile.

Crime statistics 

The FBI collects crime information from law enforcement agencies. This information is published in the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program, which is considered an authority on crime rates in the United States.  The public perception of a jurisdiction’s crime rate can impact whether people and businesses choose to locate in that community.

Crime Victims’ Rights Act of 2004 (18 U.S.C. § 3771)

This federal law is part of the Justice for All Act.  It only applies to federal crimes.  Most crime is governed by state law.


Debbie Smith Act of 2004 (40 U.S.C. § 13701)

The Debbie Smith Act refers to the 2004 federal legislation creating the Debbie Smith DNA Backlog Grant Program.  This program provides federal grants to state and local units of government, typically law enforcement agencies, to conduct DNA testing on “backlogged” samples collected from (1) crime victims and (2) criminal offenders. Since 2004, the federal government has spent over a billion dollars on “backlogged” DNA evidence.

The legislation is named after Debbie Smith, who was blindfolded and raped in 1989 by an unknown masked man.  She submitted to a forensic rape examination, but there was no national database at this time.  In 1994, the DNA Identification Act created a national database.  At this time, police submitted evidence from Smith’s rape kit.  In 1995, DNA testing identified her attacker as Norman Jimmerson, who was incarcerated for abducting and robbing two women in 1989.


In the context of crime, DNA is the biological identifier that can be used to investigate a case.  Physical evidence collected at crime scenes must undergo forensic DNA testing in order to obtain a human DNA profile.

DNA backlog 

In the forensic science field, there is no consensus on meaning of the word “backlog.”

DNA Analysis Backlog Elimination Act of 2000 (42 U.S.C. 14135)

Similar to the DNA Identification Act of 1994.  This federal legislation authorized the collection, analysis, and indexing of DNA samples from people convicted of federal, military, and District of Columbia crimes.

DNA database

Since 1994, the FBI has maintained a national DNA index system. The national database contains samples submitted by federal, state, and local crime labs.  In addition, states and local law enforcement agencies have their own index systems. Local databases contain only local samples.

DNA exception

In the context of sex crimes, this term refers to legislation that enables law enforcement to prosecute a case when DNA evidence identifies a perpetrator — even if the statute of limitations has expired.

DNA Identification Act of 1994 (42 U.S.C. § 14132)

This refers to 1994 federal legislation authorizing the establishment of a national DNA index.  The index contains DNA identification records of people convicted of crimes; analyses of  DNA samples recovered from crime scenes; and analyses of DNA samples recovered from unidentified human remains.  This legislation also established quality assurance measures for participating crime labs.  All 50 states authorize the collection and analysis of DNA samples from people convicted of state crimes, and the entry of such information into CODIS.

DNA Sexual Assault Justice Act of 2004

DNA test

In the context of rape kits, DNA test means a forensic test that obtains a DNA profile. There are several different methods of testing DNA, but law enforcement most often uses the Short Tandem Repeat (STR) test.  Furthermore, the FBI requires use of this technology for DNA samples submitted to CODIS, the national DNA database.

Serology testing is a preliminary step in the Short Tandem Repeat (STR) process.


False reporting

Some rape victims have been accused and prosecuted for false reporting when they tried to report being the victim of sexual violence.

Forensic examination

The law enforcement process of collecting forensic evidence from a victim’s body.  In rape cases, the victim’s body is the crime scene.


John Doe indictment 

The formal charging of a DNA profile instead of a named individual.  Filing John Doe indictments stops the statute of limitations in a cold case.  The individual can be prosecuted for the case when identified.

Justice for All Act of 2004 (H.R. 5107, Public Law 108-405)

This term generally refers to four pieces of federal legislation pertaining to crime victims and the criminal justice system.  This Act contains the following pieces of legislation: (1) Scott Campbell, Stephanie Roper, Wendy Preston, Louarna Gillis, and Nila Lynn Crime Victims’ Rights Act; (2) Debbie Smith Act; (3) DNA Sexual Assault Justice Act; and (4) Innocence Protection Act.

Some of the changes to forensic science policy under this act include the creation of a new indicted persons DNA index; expansion of the offenses for which federal and military offender samples are collected; enhancement of the criminal penalties for unauthorized use of NDIS; authorization of one-time keyboard searches by all NDIS participants of samples not normally included in NDIS (except voluntarily given elimination samples); deletion of the separate requirement for semiannual external proficiency tests (although it retained a different requirement for biannual external audits); requirement for state and local forensic laboratories to be accredited by a nationally recognized program within 2 years of enactment (October 30, 2006); requirement for the FBI to report to Congress any plans to change the “core genetic markers” 180 days before that change taking effect.



Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  This is a very common result of sexual violence and institutional betrayal.


Rape kit

Forensic evidence collected from a victim following a rape.



Sexual Assault Kit, a variant of “rape kit.”


Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner


Sexual Assault Response Teams


In the case of forensic evidence, serology refers to biological matter.

Statute of limitations

In the context of rape cases, the statute of limitations is a legal limit on the amount of time after a crime that law enforcement can charge the suspect.



This word can mean several different things.  There are several different methods of DNA testing.  The method most commonly used by law enforcement is the Short Tandem Repeat (STR) method.  Forensic evidence often requires preliminary testing before DNA testing.



A newer method of DNA testing that is faster and less expensive than the more common STR method.  This is not the standard method that law enforcement uses on forensic evidence.  DNA samples to be entered in CODIS must have been obtained through the short tandem repeat (STR) method.

People for the Enforcement of Rape Laws is a program of the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center to monitor law enforcement responses to sexual violence.  Our goal is to end the law enforcement and political practices that effectively decriminalize sexual violence.   To this end, we connect victims with information about their rights and equip individuals with tools to advocate for themselves and others and advocate for fair criminal justice policies.  We urge you to learn more about America’s hidden rape crisis, where it has been exposed, and why it matters.  We invite you to take action and support our efforts to make sure law enforcement takes rape seriously.