ST. PAUL — The Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) has awarded a second $2 million grant to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Office of Justice Programs (OJP) to address sexual assault kit testing, victim advocacy, and investigations.
The 2019 BJA Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI) grant is going to several entities working collaboratively to address the issue of untested kits. A 2015 inventory identified 3,482 sexual assault kits at local law enforcement agencies statewide that had not been submitted to a forensic laboratory for testing.
- The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) will receive funding to test kits, track data, and assist local agencies with case investigations. ($1,332,295 estimated portion of 2019 SAKI grant.)
- The Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MNCASA) will receive funding to coordinate a multidisciplinary team and protocol development. ($317,265 estimated portion)
- The Anoka County Sheriff’s Office will receive funding for case investigations and investigation protocol development. ($219,020 estimated portion)
- The Alexandra House will receive funding for victim notification and advocacy services. ($109,749 estimated portion)
- The Office of Justice Programs ($21,671 estimated portion) will manage the grant funding.
“The Office of Justice Programs is proud to work with our project partners to find ways to streamline kit submissions, improve sexual assault investigations and provide support to victims across Minnesota,” said OJP Executive Director Kate Weeks. “Learning from this process, we will move toward improved policies and practices for responding to sexual assault incidents.”
The Minnesota Sexual Assault Kit Initiative Project began in 2018 when OJP received its first $2 million SAKI grant. Since that time, over 250 previously un-submitted kits have been received by the BCA from local law enforcement agencies for testing.
Kits from the Anoka County Sheriff’s Office inventory are being tested first under the 2018 grant. The 2018 grant funds a dedicated sheriff’s detective and a property room technician for these cases.
Under both grants funding is provided for laboratory supplies and four BCA forensic scientists dedicated to testing kits identified during the 2015 inventory. The use of dedicated staff will allow permanent BCA staff to continue testing evidence from current active cases such as homicides, assaults, burglaries, and recent sexual assaults in a timely manner.
Testing will be completed according to a tiered plan that began with the agencies holding the most un-submitted kits identified in the 2015 inventory. The BCA will accommodate any agency that determines testing is needed to benefit a particular case prior to their scheduled time.
“This is an opportunity to gain valuable information from kits that for years have gone untested,” said BCA Superintendent Drew Evans. “Testing these kits will, in some cases, result in new information that can inform investigations and may bridge gaps in justice.”
Alexandra House, a victim service provider, is providing victim advocacy services for Anoka County cases. The project partners and other stakeholders coordinate their work through a multidisciplinary team led by the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault, the statewide coalition of sexual assault programs.
“Alexandra House is pleased to partner on the Minnesota Sexual Assault Kit Initiative,” said Connie Moore, Alexandra House Executive Director. “We are hopeful that this important work will lead to more uniformity statewide in protocols and procedures related to the handling and testing of sexual assault kits in Minnesota. Further, we believe that this project will help to ensure trauma-informed victim notification, advocacy, and support in cases involving untested or un-submitted sexual assault kits.”
“It can be distressing for a victim/survivor to hear that their sexual assault kit may not have been tested, which is why the SAKI multi-disciplinary team has set up the Anoka County Sexual Assault Kit Initiative Notification line for victims/survivors,” said Lindsay Brice, MNCASA Law and Policy Director. “Trained sexual assault advocates will respond to messages and get back to individuals who have questions. Outside of Anoka County, our member programs offer free and confidential services to victims/survivors of sexual assault—available 24/7 throughout Minnesota.”
INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS
If you or someone you know has experienced sexual harassment, abuse, or violence you can find your local advocacy agency at https://rapehelpmn.org
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
What is an un-submitted SAK?
It is a sexual assault kit collected from a victim that has not been submitted to a forensic laboratory by the investigating agency for testing and analysis.
What is the 2015 SAK inventory?
It is an inventory of sexual assault kits held by local law enforcement agencies that was conducted in 2015 by the BCA at the direction of the Minnesota legislature. That inventory determined that there were 3,482 SAKs that were collected over the years as part of investigations, but not submitted to a forensic laboratory for testing. When a SAK is collected from a victim, the investigating agency has the option to submit it to a forensic science laboratory for testing to determine whether it contains information helpful to the investigation. In the 2015 inventory, agencies said SAKs had not been submitted for testing for reasons including the suspect confessed; the act was deemed consensual; prosecution was declined; the victim decided not to proceed; it was an anonymous report; and other reasons.
Will all un-submitted SAKs be tested?
All un-submitted SAKs will be evaluated to determine whether testing would potentially further an investigation or assist the grantees with developing sexual assault investigation protocols.
Will a kit only be tested if the survivor consents?
Only those kits where a victim gave permission for the kit to be tested at the time of the incident will be considered for testing. For the majority of the cases, if the victim reported to law enforcement, that is interpreted as consent to test their kit, unless they specifically requested their kit not be tested. If the victim did not report to law enforcement, the kit will not be tested. If the victim later withdraws their consent, the kit will not be tested.
Will the newly discovered untested kits by Minneapolis Police Department be tested under these grants?
Only the number of kits reported in the initial 2015 inventory are included in these grants. Discussions are ongoing to identify resources to address the additional kits recently located by the Minneapolis Police Department. As with any law enforcement agency, if a kit is determined to need immediate attention, the BCA will work with the agency to accept and test those kits prior to the scheduled time.
About the Office of Justice Programs
The Minnesota Department of Public Safety Office of Justice Programs (OJP) provides leadership and resources to reduce crime, improve the functioning of the criminal justice system and assist crime victims. To accomplish this, OJP administers grants; provides training and technical assistance; provides research and data; works to protect crime victims’ rights; and provides reparations benefits to victims of violent crime.
About the Minnesota Department Public Safety
DPS comprises 11 divisions where 2,100 employees operate programs in the areas of law enforcement, crime victim assistance, traffic safety, alcohol and gambling, emergency communications, fire safety, pipeline safety, driver licensing, vehicle registration and emergency management. DPS activity is anchored by three core principles: education, enforcement and prevention.