For sex assault survivors, a new way to track evidence kits
After regional rollout, the Department of Public Safety online program went live statewide this week
In the event of an emergency, you should call 911. You can also contact Standing Together Against Rape, or STAR, anytime for support, by calling (907) 276-7273, or you can use the toll-free number by calling (800) 478-8999. STAR is reachable online at staralaska.com. The National Sex Assault Hotline is also available around the clock at (800) 656-HOPE (4673) via phone or online at RAINN.org.
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The State of Alaska Department of Public Safety has implemented a new program meant to change — and improve — how sex assault survivors can keep track of rape kits.
The initiative was rolled out regionally in June, the department said, with the new sex assault kit tracking system going live statewide as of this week. That means that survivors of sex assault can now track their own kits online from wherever they may be.
“This is a kit tracking software that we started to look at implementing in 2020,” said David Kanaris, Chief of the Alaska Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory. “And they’re able to track the progress of the kit through the criminal justice system at their own pace.”
A 2020 grant totaling $998,791 went toward the tracking software, along with two dedicated positions to plan, implement and maintain the program. The plan is to keep the software and system available in perpetuity so that any future case kits can also be tracked in the same manner.
Designed to be less invasive and less traumatic for survivors, the system allows people to track their kits without contacting law enforcement or others who may be involved with their case.
“It lets our clients know that their kit is in progress,” Standing Together Against Rape’s Jennifer Brown said. “It’s not sitting on a shelf somewhere, and they can see where it is, and there are limits now to how long [the kits] can stay in one place, so we’re really excited about that.”
Over the years, various efforts have been made to reduce any backlogs of rape kits connected with cases in Alaska. At one point, hundreds of kits were in waiting; that number is now down to around 50, according to DPS.
The department also said that even with its definition of “backlog” — meaning anything older than a month — it’s well ahead of what’s required by law as far as kit testing goes.
The department also said it worked with multiple groups on the system that tracks the kits containing evidence collected by specially-trained medical professionals.
“While there is still more work to do to address the scourge of sexual assault that plagues our state, this is a positive step in the right direction,” Gov. Mike Dunleavy said in a prepared statement.
“Survivors often feel like nothing is happening, that they don’t have a voice, they haven’t been heard, that they’ve been put on a shelf,” Brown said. “This builds accountability into the process for not just the SART — the Sex Assault Response Team clinic — but law enforcement, and then the crime lab.”
More info can also be found on the kit tracking project on the DPS website.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this article misidentified Jennifer Brown. Brown is the communications director for STAR Alaska.
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