The goal of this grant program is to address the growing number of unsubmitted SAKs in law enforcement custody, and to help provide resolution for victims when possible. There is broad consensus that this must be accomplished through a comprehensive approach to the problem. Grant funding may be used to inventory the existing numbers of unsubmitted SAKs, test these kits, and assign designated personnel to pursue new investigative leads and prosecutions and to support victims throughout the investigation and prosecution process. Grants may also be used to develop evidence-tracking systems, train law enforcement on sexual assault investigations, conduct research on outcomes in sexual assault cases, and increase collection of offender DNA for CODIS upload purposes (in full adherence to the laws in the jurisdiction), that may lead to the identification of serious and serial sex offenders.
BJA has implemented an evidence-based national response model to address the issue of unsubmitted SAKs. The essential elements of a comprehensive model to address the issues that underlie the problem of unsubmitted SAKs are:
- The performance of an inventory of all unsubmitted SAKs in the jurisdiction's possession (excluding SAKs already submitted to the crime lab) regardless of where they are stored (police evidence facility, hospital, and other relevant locations) and the tracking of their progress from testing through final adjudication.
- The creation of a regularly convened multidisciplinary working group for each site to address and identify the individual-level, organizational-level, and systemic factors that lead to high numbers of unsubmitted SAKs in the jurisdiction and development of a comprehensive strategy to address the issue. This working group should be comprised of law enforcement (including superior officers and officers that respond to and investigate sexual assault complaints), forensic medical personnel (including sexual assault forensic examiners), forensic laboratory personnel, prosecutors, victim advocates (both system and community-based), and victim treatment providers. (Some jurisdictions may already have Sexual Assault Response Teams [SART] in place that could form the basis of the working group).
- A designated "site coordinator" who will serve as the central point of contact for the site team. This individual will be responsible for fostering and coordinating communication among the team members and ensuring that the team is meeting its milestones. The site coordinator must also demonstrate a willingness and commitment to institutionalize systems, policies, and protocols developed by the working group to address the backlog of unsubmitted sexual assault kits and prevent the problem from reoccurring.
In addition, the SAKI National Training and Technical Assistance (TTA) Program provides direct assistance to jurisdictions that receive funding through SAKI as well as other jurisdictions engaged in reform efforts. The selected TTA provider is charged with assisting jurisdictions in establishing sustainable change in practices, protocols, and policies as they relate to untested SAKs and sexual assault response. While each jurisdiction encounters unique challenges and circumstances, common issues are identified across all site grantees. BJA collaborated with the TTA provider to produce an online toolkit/resource guide to provide guidance and a centralized source of evidence-based practices and relevant TTA resources that can be leveraged by all jurisdictions grappling with the challenge of untested SAKs.
Since its launch in 2015, SAKI has been making a difference by improving the response to sexual assault by identifying and apprehending violent offenders and by addressing the problem of unsubmitted sexual assault kits. There are 70 active SAKI grantees across 44 states. As of June 2020, more than 130,000 sexual assault kits have been inventoried, over 71,000 kits have been sent for testing, and more than 11,000 DNA hits to the national CODIS database have been made.
The impact of SAKI is being felt at the community level both in terms of getting dangerous offenders off the street and empowering victims to come forward. In Wayne County (MI), more than 60 sexual assault offenders have been convicted. In Cuyahoga County (OH), the Sexual Assault Task Force helped link a serial rapist to 7 cases. In Las Vegas, the Metro Police have received 43 CODIS hits and arrested 8 offenders. In sites such as Fayetteville (NC), victims are more confident to come forward and report to law enforcement because of the victim-centered outreach from the police department and their community partners. States are also experiencing important changes. For example, for the first time in history the Attorney General of Montana has formed a task force to conduct a census of unsubmitted kits and has identified approximately 1,400 kits across the state which will be sent for testing.
Moving forward, the goal for SAKI is to not only reduce the number of unsubmitted sexual assault kits but also to eliminate the accumulation of unsubmitted kits from reoccurring. By promoting training, evidence tracking, and best practices, SAKI is helping jurisdictions establish effective and sustainable practices for collecting and processing forensic evidence, investigating and prosecuting sexual assault cases, and supporting survivors of sexual assault.