Rape kit backlog testing nearly complete

New grant awarded to finish project and train officers

SALT LAKE COUNTY, Utah (News4Utah) - Three years, 2,200 backlogged rape kits submitted. Now the initiative, once just focused on Salt Lake County, is spreading across the state. The group of driven advocates behind the project have a message for Utah sexual assault victims.

"Their kit will be tested. That there won't be a future backlog of unsubmitted or untested kits," said victim advocate, Lauren DeVries.

It's all thanks to a federal grant and some hard working public servants. Back in 2015, News4Utah told you about the thousands of rape kits that had gone untested for years. Once the problem was discovered, the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice (CCJJ) applied for, and received the “Sexual Assault Kit Initiative” or “SAKI” grant. Their work began in Salt Lake County.

"Working with those 11 agencies throughout salt lake county has been amazing," said SAKI Site Coordinator, Krystal Hazlett.

Hazlett said, thanks to the hard-working officers in those 11 agencies, more than 1,300 kits have been tested, 623 D.N.A. profiles have been uploaded into the federal database, and 156 of those matched D.N.A. of suspects already in the system. Now the group is working to notify victims.

"We created a victim notification protocol which says we need to notify our victims in person," Hazlett said.

One person tasked with doing that is Lauren DeVries, the SAKI Victim Advocate.

"I think that's been the most positive feedback is that victims feel really empowered they feel really honored that we're taking that much time and care into their case to come and find them," DeVries said.

To make sure no victim is ever left in the dark again, a tracking system has been created and victims can reach it from their smart-phone, 24-7.

"They can now see exactly where their kit is and they don't have any questions. It's available to them," Hazlett said.

That system is being tested right now and should go live in a few months. But this team knows the work doesn't end in salt lake county.

"There are over 130 law enforcement agencies that are local, city, county across the state of Utah," said SAKI investigator, agent Steve O’Camb.

Thanks to a second SAKI grant just awarded, totaling $2.2 million, this team will be able to do just that.

"It’s going to give us some unique opportunities to go out there and do some outreach that never existed before," said Agent O’Camb.

Agent O’Camb is with the Department of Public Safety, and has been charged with training officers across the state how to better investigate sexual assault cases.

"We want to provide as much resources to the law enforcement agencies because there is a lot of work that will have to be potentially once the results come back from the labs," Agent O’Camb said.

There are still 500 backlogged kits across the state that need to be tested. Per state law, those have to be turned in by the end of the year.

"And there is funding right now with the lab to process all these kits so if there was ever a time for a final push to submit all your kits, that would be now," O’Camb said.

Agent O’Camb is confident those kits will be turned in.

"There are some good people that work these cases. They may live in Blanding or Vernal or up in Tremonton, and they still care about victims, care about getting it right," he said.

O’Camb is ready to help those officers close these cold cases once and for all.

If you think your rape kit is among the thousands that were backlogged before March of 2015, you can call Lauren DeVries directly to ask about your case. Treatment is also available if you need it. That number is (801)893-1145.

 

If you or someone you know needs help, call the toll-free Statewide 24-hour Sexual Violence Crisis and Information Hotline at Rape & Sexual Assault Crisis Line 1-888-421-1100. The Utah Coalition against Sexual Assault (UCASA) reminds people there are 11 community-based sexual violence services in Utah. Click here for locations.

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