US DOJ awards Kentucky $3m Sexual Assault Kit Initiative grant to investigate, prosecute sex crimes

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The U.S. Department of Justice has awarded a nearly $3 million National Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI) grant to the Kentucky Attorney General’s Office to seek justice for victims of sexual assault.

Attorney General Andy Beshear’s office will establish a sexual assault cold case unit comprised of a victim advocate, investigator, prosecutor and a SAKI coordinator from the three-year U.S Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Assistance $2,998,090 grant. The unit will focus on investigating and prosecuting sexual assaults while providing key services to victims during the cold case process.

Additionally the grant will allow the AG to fund an extra Kentucky State Police (KSP) cold case unit sexual assault detectives.

Upon taking office, Beshear made providing justice for victims of sexual assault a top priority and ending Kentucky’s sexual assault forensic exam (SAFE) kit backlog, which occurred due to a lack of funding and shortage of staff at the KSP crime lab.

“Let there be no doubt – this issue is not just about ‘kits,’ it’s about seeking justice for victims of sexual assault,” Beshear said. “My office applied for the SAKI grant to create a funding source to ensure the Commonwealth never has a rape kit backlog again and to ensure law enforcement and prosecutors statewide have the support they need to investigate, prosecute and seek justice for these victims.”

Beshear said the SAKI grant will also fund extra staff at the KSP crime lab to inventory and test SAFE kits, mainly “boomerang” kits – ones sent to the lab, not tested for various reasons then returned to law enforcement agencies.

The SAFE Act of 2016 (Senate Bill 63) ensures the submission of all SAFE kits, requires police receive training to conduct victim-centered sexual assault investigations and sets timelines for testing kits.

In 2016, Beshear provided $4.5 million in settlement money to lawmakers to fund requested KSP crime lab upgrades and an additional $1 million from the settlement to aid law enforcement and prosecutors in conducting victim-centered investigations and prosecuting sexual assault offenders.

In February, Beshear transferred $30,000 of interest accumulated to date from the settlement to help further fund the KSP crime lab.

Early on, Kentucky secured funding to test 3,300 SAFE kits in an effort to reduce the backlog. Beshear said the SAKI grant will cover the cost to test up to 1,500 additional SAFE kits, which are mainly boomerang cases.

According to www.kentuckybacklog.com, 3,173 backlogged SAFE kits have been tested. As of Sept. 13, 291 DNA profiles had been created that produced 118 DNA CODIS hits.

“To test every SAFE kit is now in progress in Kentucky, but if we do not have a justice system that will be equipped to seek justice in these cases, then we have still failed,” said Michelle Kuiper, AG’s Survivors Council member. “This SAKI grant will provide toward a justice system that is better equipped to handle these crimes. In Kentucky, 97 percent of rapists never spend a day in jail and are still on the streets, which means there are 97 percent of survivors who will never receive justice of horrific crimes, and that is as unconscionable as the crime itself.”

Beshear said the grant will support the Kentucky SAFE Kit Backlog Research Project, an effort the AG’s office is collaborating with the University of Louisville.

Dr. Bradley Campbell, assistant professor, U of L’s Department of Criminal Justice, said he is extremely grateful to be a part of the new SAKI project in Kentucky. Dr. Campbell is partnering with the AG’s office on the Kentucky SAFE Kit Backlog Research Project, which seeks to examine the outcomes of kit testing, identify data-driven, victim-centered responses to sexual assault and provide justice to victims.

“This funding will give us the resources to employ a longitudinal research design that will assess the impact of not only testing kits, but also SB 63’s effect on sexual assault in Kentucky,” Dr. Campbell said. “The funding allows us to add several long-term data collection components to the baseline data we are continuing to collect from the initial contract through the AG’s office. These data provide us a unique opportunity to assess how Kentucky’s innovative efforts affect policy and practice over an extended period of time. Through the SAKI funding, our work will not only provide the Commonwealth with data-driven insights into this problem, but will assist other jurisdictions throughout the country facing the problem of backlogged sexual assault kits.”

The Attorney General’s office has held multiple state trainings on the SAFE kit backlog; launched the collaborative research project with the University of Louisville to provide accountability to address the backlog; collaborated with the Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs to hold the #VoiceOfJustice video contest to raise awareness of sexual assault on campus; and created a Survivors Council.

Kentucky was one of 20 SAKI grantees nationally, and seven statewide grants for fiscal year 2017. SAKI is administered by the Bureau of Justice Assistance within the U.S. Department of Justice and aims to create a coordinated community response that ensures just resolution to sexual assault cases through a comprehensive and victim-centered approach.

Kentucky Office of the Attorney General

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