Inside Look: Sexual Assault Kit Initiative Meeting

In late May, Joyful Heart staff had the honor of attending the annual Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI) meeting in Washington, D.C. Once a year, teams from each grantee jurisdiction of both the SAKI and the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office (DANY) grant programs come together to discuss strategies for testing kits, investigating cases, prosecuting offenders, and re-engaging survivors. Representatives of jurisdictions across the country—from Oregon to Louisiana and Florida to Montana—who are working to eliminate their untested rape kit backlog met to engage in open discussion, share lessons learned, and honor accomplishments. The multidisciplinary teams include law enforcement professionals, prosecutors, sexual assault nurse examiners, crime lab professionals, and victim advocates.

Several members of the SAKI Training and Technical Assistance (TTA) team, a group of national experts supporting each grantee jurisdiction in their work, presented at the event. I was honored to share Joyful Heart’s research on victim notification and help lead a workshop walking participants through creating a victim notification plan. We discussed the challenges sites may face. For instance, how do we create victim notification protocols for a city versus an entire state? How do we ensure law enforcement and victim advocates work together to provide survivors with all the information they need in response to their questions?

All of the panels and workshops were united by a common perspective: being victim-centered and trauma-informed.

At the meeting:

  • Survivor-advocates discussed the importance of recognizing survivors’ unique experiences and including their voices in rape kit reform efforts;
  • Researchers spoke about their role in SAKI projects, as well as initial research findings;
  • Law enforcement specialists presented best practices for CODIS hit follow-up and investigation;
  • Prosecutors discussed strategies for successful prosecution of cold cases;
  • Lab personnel provided information aimed at helping grantees develop and optimize their rape kit testing plan, including the outsourcing of backlogged kits; and
  • Site representatives shared success stories from cases they were able to finally solve through rape kit testing.

The safety and well-being of survivors were at the core of all conference events. Participants from across disciplines expressed that the wishes and needs of survivors must be at the heart of every decision made in the effort to eliminate the backlog.

Later this year, more communities will receive SAKI grants to start processing their untested rape kits. These grants make meaningful change, encouraging law enforcement, prosecutors, lab personnel, medical professionals, and victim advocates to collaborate to change the way rape kits are in handled in their communities. Joyful Heart will continue to assist these grantees as they do this important work.

-By Ilse Knecht, Director of Policy and Advocacy, June 20, 2017

END THE BACKLOG is an initiative of the Joyful Heart Foundation to shine a light on the backlog of untested rape kits throughout the United States. Our goal is to end this injustice by conducting groundbreaking research identifying the extent of the nation’s backlog and best practices for eliminating it, expanding the national dialogue on rape kit testing through increased public awareness, engaging communities and government agencies and officials and advocating for comprehensive rape kit reform legislation and policies at the local, state and federal levels. We urge you to learn more about the backlog, where it exists and why it matters. We invite you to take action and support efforts to test rape kits. Help us send the message that we must take rape seriously.

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END THE BACKLOG is a JOYFUL HEART FOUNDATION initiative and a proud supporter of