April 26, 2018 - Jefferson County Sexual Assault Kit Initiative
Jefferson County Sexual Assault Reform Background
Since 1998, there have been 27,402 reported rapes in Alabama. Jefferson County has reported 5,772, meaning an average of 21% of rapes in Alabama took place in Jefferson County. Because of the high volume of cases seen in Jefferson County, community based advocates approached the District Attorney’s Office about seeking grant funds to address sexual violence in our county. Upon researching the question of unsubmitted kits in Jefferson County, the DA’s Office realized the number of unsubmitted kits is unknown. This question led us to apply for SAKI funding, which will allow us to count how many kits we have through a county-wide inventory. The resources available to the 27 jurisdictions across the county vary widely. Some have electronic property records, and some do not. It was clear that additional resources were needed for us to have an accurate picture of how the criminal justice system in Jefferson County was responding to sexual assault.
Jefferson County SAKI Project Overview
In 2016, the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) awarded the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office with a Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI) grant of $1.5 million dollars for a three-year project. The purpose of this grant is to provide resources and personnel dedicated to examining the current criminal justice response to sexual assault in Jefferson County. This grant will allow us to inventory the existing Sexual Assault Kits in the county, build a database to store kit information, and provide a more survivor-centered and trauma-informed response to sexual assault.
The goals of the Jefferson County DA’s Office SAKI include the following:
- A thorough inventory of all Sexual Assault Kits in the county
- The development of a database that will provide easily accessible information to advocates, investigators, and prosecutors on the Sexual Assault Kits
- Hiring three Court Advocates to help survivors of sexual assault navigate the criminal justice system.
- Building a Multidisciplinary Team (MDT) for sexual assault that will include advocates, police, prosecutors, and community partners invested in addressing the needs of survivors
- Hiring a prosecutor specifically to handle sexual assault cases
- Setting up a vertical court for sexual assault cases
Jefferson County’s SAKI project is meant to take an in-depth and comprehensive look at sexual assault across the county. With 27 jurisdictions and two DA’s offices, additional resources are needed to develop a common language and protocol for addressing sexual assault county-wide. The inventory should give us a clear picture of the status of the kits in our county. The Multidisciplinary Team will be responsible for developing a protocol for testing, investigating, and prosecuting any cases that can move forward. Court advocates will work directly with survivors to help them navigate the system and to ensure their wishes are met throughout the process. Our efforts will be survivor-centered and trauma-informed, meaning that the survivor is the center of the process and all efforts will be made to reduce the traumatization that can occur throughout the criminal justice system.
rnJefferson County’s SAKI grant was awarded to specifically address those SAKs in the county that were not previously submitted to the lab for testing. With the help of local law enforcement, SAKI staff completed a comprehensive inventory of SAKs in Jefferson County, which yielded a total of 4,999 kits with 3,876 of those SAKs identified as unsubmitted. SAKI staff are now in the process of researching the case status for each kit and creating a database to collect information on these inventoried and future sexual assault kits.
SAKI’s national goals are to understand why kits have not been tested in the past, to provide education on the importance of testing kits, and to find solutions to the unique roadblocks that present themselves in each jurisdiction. Jefferson County is fortunate to have received the SAKI grant so that we can begin to look at the national problem of unsubmitted kits from a local and multidisciplinary perspective.
Now that the inventory is complete, the second phase of the project will continue to develop a Multidisciplinary Team (MDT). This MDT will be comprised of Sexual Assault Survivors, Law Enforcement, Advocates, District Attorney’s Office staff, and Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences representatives. Together these individuals will work to address individual cases, policies, procedures, as well as training needs within the Jefferson County.