State & federal funding helping tackle sexual assault in UT

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 Utah) - Since 2015 Utah has been making a concerted effort to deal with the issue of rape and sexual assault. Now the combination of state and federal money is allowing them to make big strides in dealing with both the criminal and prevention aspects of the issue.

In 2015 the state was awarded a Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI) Grant from the federal government to help deal with, and prosecute untested kits in Salt Lake County. Other grants, and state funding are helping to eliminate the current backlog around the state.

April Ensign is the SAKI Grant Site Coordinator for the state. She said the grant also includes funding for special training of law enforcement in how to deal with these cases.

"Our goal is to basically transform the way we're addressing all cases," said Ensign.

The grant will also pay for a computer tracking system so victims can keep up to date on where their rape kit is in the process.

State Rep. Angela Romero (D-Salt Lake City) was the sponsor of HB 200, better known as the rape kit bill, during the last legislative session. It passed unanimously into law and requires the submission and testing of all rape kits. It also allocates money for extra scientists at the crime lab to process those kits.

Rep. Romero said the effort of both federal, and local money is helping the state make strides.

"We have a long way to go, but we're beginning to move in that direction," said Rep. Romero. "With the passing HB 200 we're steps ahead of several other states."

Rep. Romero notes other states still have a backlog of untested kits, or are relying on donations to try and deal with it.

This comes as Utah just applied for a second SAKI Grant which would apply to the entire state. The effort would not just improve on practices, but is also studying the effectiveness of the programs implemented to see how well they work.

"People think we're just working on sexual assault kits, but that's not what we're doing," said Ensign. "We're evaluating the entire system."

The state won't know until October whether the second SAKI Grant is approved. By July of 2018 the new tracking system is expected to be set up, and new scientists hired.

The goal is for the crime lab to be able to receive a kit, process it, and have it back to investigators within 30 days. The current process can take anywhere from a few months to more than a year.

 

 


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