In just 4 years, SAKI has already identified more than 200,000 unsubmitted kits across 54 jurisdictions in 35 states
One untested sexual assault kit can have ramifications far beyond the case for which it was originally collected.
Sexual assault offenders are often serial offenders, either committing multiple sexual assaults or other violent crimes. Testing a sexual assault kit where the perpetrator is known could provide a DNA match in a crime where the offender was not identified – a key piece of evidence that could provide closure to victims and families, and bring violent offenders to justice
Through the National Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI), the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) has worked with 54 jurisdictions across 35 states to date to identify over 200,000 unsubmitted sexual assault kits and to test more than 47,000 of these.
"What we're seeing across the country is a united effort to address the problems that have occurred in the past with regard to sexual assaults and the backlogs of sexual assault kits, and the recognition of the seriousness of the crime of sexual assault," said Dr. Angela Williamson, the BJA Senior Forensic Policy Advisor who manages SAKI.
Across the country, this young program has already produced substantial results. With support from SAKI, law enforcement officials in New Orleans were able to link the sexual assaults of eight women in two states to one man, and authorities in Fayetteville, North Carolina, used DNA testing results to charge a rape suspect with two additional sexual assaults dating back to 1985. SAKI, in collaboration with the FBI and Texas Rangers, has also enabled law enforcement to corroborate at least 49 confessions from Samuel Little, one of the worst serial killers in American history.
A Coordinated Community Response
Administered by BJA and launched in 2015, SAKI creates a coordinated community response to the backlog of untested sexual assault kits. The program provides funding that helps link victims to advocates and needed services while supporting jurisdictions to implement best practices and comprehensive reform that help bring perpetrators to justice and increase safety in communities by preventing future sexual assaults.
"The focus of SAKI is to account for every kit in every jurisdiction, make sure it gets tested, make sure it gets investigated, and prosecuted if appropriate," Dr. Williamson said.
Through SAKI, law enforcement officials around the country are also identifying behavioral patterns of offenders that wouldn’t be identifiable after testing just one kit. In addition to finding that many offenders are serial in nature, they’re learning that offenders are non-preferential – they’re just as likely to assault a spouse or girlfriend as they are a stranger.
"These are huge implications for how law enforcement will tackle these cases going forward and better serve the community," Dr. Williamson said.
The reasons for the backlog in untested kits can be attributed to a number of factors. This includes poor evidence tracking, outdated and ineffective investigation practices, a lack of resources and personnel, misunderstanding of crime lab case acceptance policies, and a lack of awareness among law enforcement personnel about the value of testing sexual assault kits.
Importantly, the use of DNA evidence is still relatively new. Many kits identified by SAKI date back to the 1970s and 1980s when DNA testing of evidence did not exist.
"The biggest thing we're doing is letting the victims know that something is finally happening to their kit, giving them reasons for why there were delays, giving them answers, giving them a sense of security, and letting them know that someone hears their voice and is doing something to help," Dr. Williamson said.
The expectation is that the more than 200,000 kits already identified through SAKI will be tested and DNA evidence may help to solve anywhere from 30 to 50 percent of these cases. But in cases that can't be solved with DNA evidence alone, BJA has formed a partnership with the FBI's Violent Criminal Apprehension Program, which links cases based on commonalities and non-DNA evidence. Any case stemming from a sexual assault kit that fits the FBI's criteria is placed in this national data-sharing system.
"At BJA and the Department of Justice, we'd really like survivors to know that there are immense efforts underway to investigate their cases and to get them long-awaited justice," Dr. Williamson said.
To learn more about BJA's Sexual Assault Kit Initiative, visit https://sakitta.org/.
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