Utah advocate instrumental in clearing rape kit backlog, supporting survivors dies at 42

(Photo courtesy of Utah Sexual Assault Kit Initiative) Krystal Hazlett, grant manager and site coordinator for Utah Sexual Assault Kit Initiative, was a strong advocate for rape victims in the state. She died July 19 at the age of 42.

Five years ago, Utah was just beginning to come to grips with the more than 2,000 sexual assault kits that sat untested in the state. Now, Utah is on track to finally eliminate that backlog by September.

“This wouldn’t have been possible without Krystal Hazlett,” according to Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, who has sponsored legislation to address testing.

Described as “a force to be reckoned with” in her advocacy to support victims of sexual assault, Hazlett was dedicated making sure that survivors were believed and heard and knew their story was important, her colleagues and friends said.

Hazlett died July 20 at her home in Taylorsville “when her heart stopped as she slept” at the age of 42, according to her obituary.

A viewing is scheduled from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday at Starks Funeral Parlor, 3651 S. 900 East in Salt Lake City. To comply with social distancing guidelines, people should call the funeral parlor at 801-474-9119 to make a reservation. Masks are encouraged.

According to her obituary, some of Hazlett’s “proudest work” came from her time working as the grant manager and site coordinator for the Utah Sexual Assault Kit Initiative, or SAKI. It was launched in 2017 to help victims stay updated about the status of their kits, as well as to provide resources for law enforcement, prosecutors, advocates and survivors.

The best words to describe Hazlett are “fierce and driven,” said Steve O’Camb, a SAKI investigator who worked with her. She was “relentless” as the SAKI team traveled every inch of the state to train police and work with agencies, he said.

“She was one of those people where even if it was outside of her 40 hours of work, she was going to get it done,” O’Camb said.

Derek Coats, another SAKI investigator, said he and others who worked with Hazlett respected her work ethic and the passion she had. “I feel like she expected a lot from you, but it was no less from what she would expect from herself,” he said.

Coats said the SAKI team is already feeling the gap left with Hazlett’s passing, and it will probably never be fully filled. “We’re trying to make sure we’re keeping that vision she had going forward,” he said.

“Whether it be at the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice (CCJJ), or her many years at the Salt Lake D.A.’s Office, she felt culture change occurs one person at a time,” according to a post last week about Hazlett on the Utah SAKI Facebook page. “Her ability to drive collaboration with stakeholders and get things done was unmatched.”

“Her legacy will live on,” the post continues.

Three years ago, Rep. Romero proposed a bill, which became law, mandating that all rape kits be submitted and tested in Utah. It also created a system to track the kits and fund trauma-sensitivity training for law enforcement. Hazlett was an “integral part of all that work,” according to Romero.

As of the end of June, 4,996 previously untested kits had been submitted, and 4,841 kits have completed testing, according to Utah SAKI. This has resulted in 1,072 suspects being identified through CODIS, a national DNA database.

Sometimes the public forgets the “unsung heroes,” including Hazlett, who do the hard work after legislation is passed at the Capitol to “bring it to fruition,” Romero said. Hazlett always went the “extra step,” such as when she connected Romero with women who were personally impacted by her bill, she said.

“There was so much more she had to offer this world,” Romero said. “It’s just sad to see someone so young, so full of life that had so much to offer leave so early. And I just really appreciate all the work she provided for us in the state of Utah.”

Hazlett also volunteered with the Children’s Justice Center, Prevent Child Abuse Utah, The Sharing Place, the Utah Food Bank and Wills for Heroes, according to her obituary.

“She was just so very thoughtful and engaged and had a bigger heart than anybody I’d ever known,” said Lauren Ricci, group coordinator at The Sharing Place, a Salt Lake City organization that helps grieving children and teens.

Ricci remembers a boy who came in and “didn’t want to deal with his dad’s suicide.” He wore a shirt that said, “I don’t want to talk about it.” The next time the group met, Hazlett wore a shirt she had made that said the same phrase. By doing something thoughtful like that to show the boy Hazlett wanted to connect with him, he opened up and become involved, according to Ricci.

Hazlett gave 100% of her attention to whatever she did, Ricci said. Despite all the work she was doing, she regularly reached out to people to see how they were doing and made sure they were OK, she said.

Hazlett was also “so funny” and “hilarious,” which Ricci said she found remarkable, given the tough areas she worked in. “That was always inspiring, to see she could look past that and bring that beauty she found in life to everyone,” she said.

“It is incredibly difficult to measure the loss of Krystal Hazlett,” the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition said in a Sunday post on its Facebook page, “although we know it is huge. Her local and national advocacy has positively impacted thousands and resulted in much needed change to ensure justice for victims and survivors of abuse; specifically, sexual assault.”