Attorney General Mike Hunter today announced the state has been awarded the federal Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI) Grant to help collect, prioritize and test a number of the sexual assault forensic evidence kits that have been identified in police evidence rooms.
The three-year, $2.4 million grant, awarded by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, will fund the initiatives put forth by the Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence (SAFE) Task Force after an audit identified over 7,000 sexual assault evidence kits were in police evidence rooms statewide.
A sexual assault evidence kit, also known as a rape kit, is a forensic exam used to collect evidence from a victim of sexual assault. The SAFE Task Force has met over the last two years to address the backlog.
Attorney General Hunter said applying for the grant was a natural decision by the task force to help with continued reform.
“We have made tremendous progress over the last few years in improving the entire process in our state,” Attorney General Hunter said. “This funding is going to help us expedite the reforms we have implemented, like the collection and testing of rape kits, while putting more resources toward helping victims. It will also assist us as we continue to reform the system to ensure the backlog never happens again. The grant announcement wouldn’t have been possible without the dedication of the members of the SAFE Task Force, who have given so much time and attention to this very important issue.”
Governor Kevin Stitt, who earlier this year signed legislation recommended by the task force and also signed an executive order extending the work of the task force through 2023, commended members’ efforts.
“Because of the work and dedication of the members of the SAFE Task Force, our state now serves as a national model on how to end the backlog,” Governor Stitt said. “It is thanks to our significant progress in overhauling the system that our state was able to receive these funds to expedite the collection and testing of some of the kits. I applaud the members of the task force, who continue to do an exemplary job on behalf of victims of sexual assault.”
The conditions of the grant stipulate that the funding may only be used to inventory the existing numbers of unsubmitted rape kits, testing the kits and assign designated personnel to pursue new investigative leads and prosecutions and to support victims throughout the investigation and prosecution process.
The grant may also be used to develop evidence-tracking systems, train law enforcement on sexual assault investigations, conduct research on outcomes in sexual assault cases and increase the collection of offender DNA.
The state will use the funding to collect rape kits currently in law enforcement custody, categorize them to determine which kits will be submitted for testing and hire four positions. The positions will include a project manager that will assist district attorneys in re-opening cases, a victim advocate who will work directly with victims, a lead investigator and an additional agent who will work on cases.
Funding will also be provided to pay for overtime for lab technicians already on staff at the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation.
SAFE Task Force
Made up of lawmakers, law enforcement officials, victim advocates, a survivor of sexual assault and other stakeholders, the SAFE Task Force has overhauled how rape kits are handled in the state.
The task force has developed a priority list for which untested kits would be submitted for testing.
Additionally, during this year’s legislative session, the task force proposed three pieces of legislation that all eventually passed and were signed into law.
The legislation included:
- The use of one standardized kit;
- A requirement for law enforcement agencies to submit kits for testing within 20 days;
- A mandate to keep all kits for at least 50 years or the length of the statute of limitations, whichever is longer;
- Requirements for all medical providers, law enforcement agencies, forensic labs and other agencies that have custody of sexual assault evidence collection kits participate in a statewide electronic tracking system being implemented by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation; and
- Additional training for law enforcement related to sexual assault response and evidence collection.
The task force continues to meet regularly to ensure the successful implementation of all initiatives.