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Debbie Smith

2005 Special Courage Award | National Crime Victims’ Service Awards

Debbie Smith | Special Courage Award
Charles City, Virginia

On March 3, 1989, Debbie Smith was kidnapped from her home while her husband, a police officer, was sleeping upstairs. She was dragged into the woods behind her home and raped. The rapist threatened Smith not to tell, and reminded her that he knew where she lived. 

Bravely, Smith went forward and told her husband Robert of the assault. The rape was officially reported and she consented to a forensic exam. After the sexual assault, Smith feared that her unknown attacker would return to further harm her or her family. This fear was paralyzing. The traumatic effect of the assault remained with Smith and her family for 6½ years until her perpetrator was finally caught through a DNA database known as CODIS (Combined DNA Index System). 

The man who sexually assaulted Smith had abducted and robbed two other women. The attacker was identified through an ATM photo after he had taken the women to a cash machine to withdraw their money. The man's DNA was put into the system and a match was found. Smith's attacker was convicted of rape, abduction, robbery, burglary, and larceny and sentenced to two life terms plus 25 years in prison. 

Smith travels around the country to talk about her experience. She talks about the attack to help her heal as well as serve as a voice for the many female victims who have been unable to speak out. 

In her efforts to improve the criminal justice system, Smith lobbied for the Debbie Smith Act of 2004, which was incorporated into the Justice for All Act of 2004. On October 30, 2004, President George W. Bush signed H.R. 5107, known as the Justice for All Act of 2004, into law [Public Law 108-405], which incorporates the Debbie Smith Act of 2004. 

Smith was jointly nominated by the Office of the Assistant Attorney General, Office of Justice Programs, and the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.