How is the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative helping to solve cold cases?

photo of Cobb Superior Court building from the front with a blue sky with clouds in the backgroundCobb County Superior Court (photo by Larry Felton Johnson)

The Cobb County District Attorney’s office announced earlier that an arrest had been made in a cold case from 30 years ago as part of the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI).

So what is SAKI, why was the initiative formed, and how is it helping in the solution to decades-old cold cases?

What is SAKI?

The Sexual Assault Kit Initiative was formed because of the large number of sexual assault cases where DNA evidence existed, but where law enforcement had failed to fully investigate the crime.

The Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI) is a grant program administered by the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA). According to the BJA website, “The Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) was created in 1984 to reduce violent crime, create safer communities, and reform our Nation’s criminal justice system.”

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The purpose of SAKI is to “address the growing number of unsubmitted SAKs in law enforcement custody, and to help provide resolution for victims when possible.”

How does the program work?

SAKI’s goal is to develop a comprehensive approach to reducing the backlog of unsubmitted sexual assault kits, using the following steps listed on the program’s website:

  1. The performance of an inventory of all unsubmitted SAKs in the jurisdiction’s possession (excluding SAKs already submitted to the crime lab) regardless of where they are stored (police evidence facility, hospital, and other relevant locations) and the tracking of their progress from testing through final adjudication.
  2. The creation of a regularly convened multidisciplinary working group for each site to address and identify the individual-level, organizational-level, and systemic factors that lead to high numbers of unsubmitted SAKs in the jurisdiction and development of a comprehensive strategy to address the issue. This working group should be comprised of law enforcement (including superior officers and officers that respond to and investigate sexual assault complaints), forensic medical personnel (including sexual assault forensic examiners), forensic laboratory personnel, prosecutors, victim advocates (both system and community-based), and victim treatment providers. (Some jurisdictions may already have Sexual Assault Response Teams [SART] in place that could form the basis of the working group).
  3. A designated “site coordinator” who will serve as the central point of contact for the site team. This individual will be responsible for fostering and coordinating communication among the team members and ensuring that the team is meeting its milestones. The site coordinator must also demonstrate a willingness and commitment to institutionalize systems, policies, and protocols developed by the working group to address the backlog of unsubmitted sexual assault kits and prevent the problem from reoccurring.

How successful is the SAKI program?

As of 2019, SAKI had identified over 200,000 unsubmitted sexual assault kits, meaning that more than 200,000 incidents of sexual assault had never been fully investigated.

Now, as of the updated figures in Junes, 136,060 kits have been inventoried, 81,563 kits have been submitted for testing, there have been 1,875 hits on serial sexual offenders in the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) and 7,118 hits on serial violent offenders in CODIS.

The SAKI program posts updates of its accomplishments on its website.

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