Reform Sexual Assault Kit Processing
The current situation
According to a November 2018 Department of Public Safety (DPS) report there are 2, 568 unprocessed Sexual Assault Kits (SAKs), which are commonly referred to as Rape Kits. An additional 291 kits have been untested for 30 days or more. The DPS estimates that it will take 3-4 years to clear this backlog.
Victims are not kept informed of the processing status of their sexual assault kits. If victims want information, the DPS recommends they ask their advocate to contact law enforcement agencies. Many are unclear whether their kit has been processed, or will be in the future.
As part of the reporting process the kits can be collected anonymously. These kits are only processed when the victim contacts law enforcement and reports the crime. However, this is not a streamline process and many victims encounter problems reaching someone to have their kit tested.
All Sexual Assault Kits collected after January 2018 must be sent to the Alaska State Crime Detection Laboratory for testing or storage. If testing is not requested, an explanation is required in writing.
The state is moving towards a policy of testing all viable SAKs which are defined as those:
1. Eligible to be entered into CODIS; and/or
2. Suitable for analysis based on case details to aid in the investigation of a crime .
why it’s A problem
The Sexual Assault Kit exam is an extremely violating and emotionally and physically painful exam. It is a 4-6 hour process that involves collecting samples, taking pictures and collecting evidence from the areas of the body where the victim was violated.
It is discouraging, insulting and hurtful for those kits to then just sit on shelves accumulating dust. Survivors feel that their stories are not taken seriously and are unimportant. When those kits are untested, serial offenders remain unidentified, crimes are not linked, and victims are discouraged from reporting their assault.
The current system is too murky for survivors to navigate easily. It takes considerable time and energy for victims to figure out whether their kit has been processed, or to track down someone to tell them to process their kit. This stops victims from getting closure and healing and is very emotionally draining.
SAK testing can also discredit the suspect, and exonerate the innocent. Testing rape kits also saves communities millions of dollars. In Ohio, researchers found that more more than half of the untested SAKs were connected to serial offenders.
Federal guidelines currently recommend testing all SAKs, and that anonymously submitted SAKs should only be tested with the victim’s consent. Doing so sends a powerful message that sexual violence, and each individual case, matters and is taken seriously.
how to change it
A. The legislature should allocate the requested $700,500 to the DPS to expand forensic assault testing and create a sexual assault team. so that SAKs can be processed in-state.
B. The DPS should adopt a system similar to the one used by Ohio to clear a backlog of 14,000 kits in 7 years at a cost of $9.5 million. SAK’s processing time decreased from 125 days to 25 days by:
1. Focusing on identifying DNA rather than bodily fluids;
2. Developing a team model where individuals are assigned specific tasks so they can start working after a few months of training, rather than a few years;
3. Investing in machines and automated equipment.
C. The DPS should implement an online tracking system like the one in Idaho and rolled out just a few days ago in Washington state that allows victims to:
1. See the progress in the kit’s processing;
2. Find contact information for law enforcement officers assigned to their case;
3. Find contact information for community resources;
4. Ask for their SAK to be processed if it was submitted anonymously.
D. All kits should be tested with the victim’s consent.