Funding from New York prosecutor helps Utah test nearly 2,000 sexual assault kits

Stock image with an inset file photo of a sexual assault kit from the State of Utah Department of Public Safety by Markee Heckenliable, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — As a result of a $38 million national investment by the district attorney of New York and other federal authorities, more than 100,000 sexual assault kits have been tested in the U.S. since 2015, with Utah among those states to have received funding.

According to the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative – or SAKI – website, the Bureau of Justice Assistance partnered with the New York County District Attorney’s Office in 2015 to provide funding to test sexual assault kits for 32 jurisdictions in 20 states — known as the Sexual Assault Kit Backlog Elimination Grant Program. The Utah Department of Public Safety-Bureau of Forensic Services received nearly $1.3 million of that funding.

During the grant program — which ran from September 2015 to September 2018 — 1,977 backlogged kits were sent for DNA testing in Utah.

“The Utah Bureau of Forensic Services (UBFS) has seen a portion of the success that processing these cases has revealed,” the results state. “UBFS has seen 88 offender hits and 22 forensic hits, which has helped identify or provide an investigative lead for cases that would not have been processed without the help of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.”

Krystal Hazlett, SAKI site coordinator for Utah, told St. George News that along with SAKI funding, Utah has inventoried 3,943 sexual assault kits. Out of the 3,943 kits, 2,919 have completed DNA testing and have been returned to law enforcement agencies across the state as of December — leaving 1,024 untested, of which 89 sexual assault kits were submitted for testing in Washington County, and 96 were submitted in Iron County.

“We have uploaded 1,237 CODIS profiles,” Hazlett said, referring to the Combined DNA Index System, ” and we have 498 CODIS hits. We currently have filed 21 felony cases. We have 4 convictions.”

Read more: Southern Utah officials receive training on tracking sexual assault kits

Although the funding has allowed for improvement to the rape kit backlog — where DNA has been collected in sexual assault cases but never sent for DNA testing — there’s still work to be done. According to a report by The Associated Press, it’s estimated that another 155,000 or more sexual assault evidence kits still await testing, and thousands of results have yet to be linked to suspects.

“That backlog not only undermined justice and the perception, and reality, of equality — it also made every woman and every American less safe,” said Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. during a press conference last week, while releasing the results of his grant program.

According to the program’s results, seven states have either eliminated or are close to eliminating their statewide backlogs: Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon and Michigan. Although the Beehive state wasn’t on the list, Utah did enact legislative reform to ensure the backlog is addressed.

Due to requirements made under 2017’s Utah Legislature’s HB 200, each sexual assault kit must be submitted to the Utah Bureau of Forensic Services as soon as possible and no later than 30 days after it’s received by a law enforcement agency. A sexual assault kit tracking system was also mandated by the bill and went live in April. It allows victims of sexual assault to track the status of their kits and where it is.

Testing one sexual assault kit costs between $1,000-1,500, according to the results. Due to Utah having used all of the near $1.3 million for testing, Hazlett said some of the remaining kits haven’t been tested. However, SAKI is supplementing funds to help the Utah State Crime Lab process the rest of the kits.

“We are fairly close,” she said, referring to the 1,024 kits that have yet to be tested.

To read the full results of the Sexual Assault Kit Backlog Elimination Grant Program, you can visit the District Attorney of New York website. If you have questions on the progress of your sexual assault kit, you can call the Sexual Assault Victim Information Line at 801-893-1145 or email amwalker@utah.gov.

Email: mheckenliable@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews | @markeekaenews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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