As efforts continue to eliminate Utah’s backlog of untested sexual assault kits, state officials announced Tuesday that a new federal grant will help them bring more support to victims statewide.
A federal Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI) grant allowed officials three years ago to start a pilot program in Salt Lake County that allowed victims whose sexual assault kits had previously been untested to call a victim advocate for updates on their case and access a therapeutic treatment fund, among other resources.
The grant also provided funding for police, prosecutors and others to closely review those Salt Lake County cases for the potential for prosecution.
SAKI site coordinator Krystal Hazlett said during a Tuesday news conference that Utah’s Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice was awarded an additional $2.2 million in October to expand its efforts statewide.
“This will increase our outreach from the 11 agencies in Salt Lake County to the more than 130 agencies statewide that may have unsubmitted sexual assault kits,” Hazlett said.
SAKI officials also announced Tuesday a new online sexual assault kit tracking system, expected to launch in early 2018, which will allow victims to receive information about the status of their rape kits in a convenient way.
These outreach efforts are the latest in an ongoing effort to improve how officials respond to reports of sexual assault. In 2014, a state working group identified 2,690 sexual assault kits that had not been submitted to the crime lab for testing.
State officials said Tuesday that 2,258 previously unsubmitted kits have now been submitted for DNA testing, with 78 percent having been tested so far and returned to law enforcement. Just over 700 suspect DNA profiles have been found and entered into CODIS, the federal Combined DNA Indexing System. There have been 171 DNA matches.
Salt Lake County police, prosecutors, victim advocates and others have reviewed 156 cases, according to Hazlett, and charges have been filed in nine cases.
Hazlett said that at this point, only victims whose cases have the potential for prosecution have been contacted as a result of these reviews. The victim then can make the decision about whether the case should proceed with any follow-up investigation or possible prosecution.
Department of Public Safety Col. Brian Redd said Tuesday that the SAKI initiative touches on an important issue that affects many in Utah. The investigative process can be difficult for victims, he said, so it is important that those involved consider how they treat those victims.
“It’s also a great opportunity for us, through the development of leads to remove criminals off our streets and out of our communities that are harming other individuals,” he said.
The Utah Legislature passed a law last year that now requires all rape kits be tested at the state’s crime lab for DNA. Police agencies have 30 days to submit sexual assault kits to the Utah crime lab after collection, with testing required at a to-be-determined deadline.
- Victims of sexual assault can call 801-893-1145 or email victim advocate Lauren De Vries at firstname.lastname@example.org for information about their rape kits. State officials say they want to offer information to survivors about their cases and provide them an opportunity to receive that information on their own terms.