The Attorney General’s Office Monday launched a website to keep the public up to date and provide comprehensive information about Washington’s Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI) program, part of a statewide initiative to end Washington’s rape kit backlog. The Attorney General’s SAKI grant is now funding additional rape kit testing to help clear the backlog even faster.
So far, the state has tested 4,650 out of approximately 9,760 backlogged kits, and entered 1,714 into CODIS, the national DNA evidence database. Of the kits tested so far, 690 have resulted in a “hit,” matching DNA evidence from a kit to other DNA in the database, such as DNA from a known offender.
The website provides a centralized hub for services and resources available to sexual assault survivors across the state. Anyone with questions about the status of their backlogged sexual assault kit may call 833-753-0900 for more information.
Ferguson also announced the launch of the testing phase of his office’s SAKI initiative. Using Ferguson’s SAKI grant funding, 52 backlogged sexual assault kits from Kent dating from 2003-2014 were submitted for testing. Ferguson has committed a total of $2.25 million toward testing. The Crime Lab expects to meet the legal requirement to complete testing on all kits collected July 2015 and earlier by the end of next year. The Crime Lab estimates the entire backlog will be tested by mid-2022.
“Every hit we get from backlogged kits is a step closer to justice for survivors of sexual assault,” Ferguson said. “Throughout this project, our SAKI website will be a resource for up-to-date information on our progress. Sexual assault survivors deserve full transparency as we work through the backlog of DNA evidence.”
“The SAKI program has repeatedly shown that when we invest in solving cold cases, all of our communities are safer,” said Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines. “I want to thank the Attorney General’s Office for standing up for survivors in their fight for justice every step of the way.”
The website includes:
• Inventory information
• Data and results from the project
• An overview of the testing process
• Frequently asked questions
• Survivor resources
A sexual assault kit is a collection of evidence gathered from a survivor by a medical professional, usually a specially trained sexual assault nurse examiner. A crime lab then tests the evidence for DNA that could help law enforcement find a perpetrator.
In Washington state, the State Patrol Crime Lab oversees the testing of all of the state’s DNA evidence. The Crime Lab is outsourcing the sexual assault kits to a private lab to complete the DNA testing. The Crime Lab must conduct a peer review of all evidence tested by outside labs and is the only agency permitted to upload DNA profiles into CODIS.
The State of Washington has made progress on processing its backlog of sexual assault kits over the past several years, but additional work remains. In 2015, led by Rep. Orwall, the Legislature gave funds to the Crime Lab to reduce the backlog.
In 2017, the Attorney General’s Office won its first $3 million SAKI grant from the Department of Justice to address the backlog of sexual assault kits. The office has designated half of the total $3 million grant to pay for testing backlogged kits, the maximum amount allowed under the grant. The office won another $2.5 million in SAKI grant funding in 2019.
In 2019, the Legislature, again led by Rep. Orwall, authorized funding for the construction of a high throughput DNA lab in Vancouver that when completed will allow the Crime Lab to process a higher volume of DNA cases at quicker rates.
Testing backlogged kits has already provided new information for cold cases. In one case, a suspect was charged with child rape more than 10 years after the crime, thanks to the results of a backlogged rape kit.
Once the kits are tested, local law enforcement can use DNA to reopen cold cases. The AGO can offer investigative assistance to local law enforcement agencies. In Washington state, the Attorney General only has authority to initiate criminal investigations after receiving a referral from a county prosecuting attorney or the Governor. However, the AGO can assist local law enforcement with their investigations if a law enforcement agency requests it.
Earlier this year, an advisory group convened by the Attorney General’s Office released a report to the Legislature and Governor calling on the state to provide resources for the investigation and prosecution of cold cases, and to establish a statewide practice of collecting DNA samples ordered by the court.
Testing sexual assault kits will identify serial rapists, link cases across the country, provide critical links that could solve homicide cases and provide answers to victims and their families. Throughout the project, the AGO will host victim-centered trauma training around the state for law enforcement agencies, prosecutors and victim advocates.
Source: Washington State Attorney General