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National Sexual Assault Kit Initiative Helps Solve Crimes

Thursday, October 5, 2017
By Alan R. Hanson, Acting Assistant Attorney General

Sexual assault kit paperwork

It's a well-known fact that DNA collected from a sexual assault kit, which consists of the results of a forensic exam performed to preserve medical evidence, can lead to the assailant's identification and conviction. What's not so widely known is that failure to submit sexual assault kits, or "rape kits," for testing may keep the perpetrator on the street to commit not only additional rapes but also other crimes. Recent research by the Wayne County, Michigan, prosecutor's office found that 83 percent of those imprisoned for rape have had at least one other arrest, and nearly 63 percent have had at least one other conviction.

A case in point is that of Ronald E. Jones. The testing of Wayne County's sexual assault kits linked Jones to six sexual assaults. The first attack took place in 1995, and although a kit was collected from the victim, for reasons not known it wasn't sent to the lab for testing.

From 1995 to 2010, Jones was sentenced five times, given two prison terms, placed on probation three times and paroled eight times. He was also returned to prison six times and absconded from community supervision seven times. And unknown to authorities, he sexually assaulted five more women during this period. Although kits were collected from all his victims, only one was submitted for testing???and then cancelled when Jones accepted a plea bargain.

Jones was finally identified and charged in July 2015 with the 2009 sexual assault of a 19-year-old woman, his second known victim. This came about through impressive efforts by the Wayne County Sexual Assault Kit Task Force. The task force brought about the testing of some 11,000 kits, which had accumulated in a warehouse. In 2015, the task force received nearly $2 million in funding from the National Sexual Assault Kit Initiative, administered by the Office of Justice Programs' Bureau of Justice Assistance. SAKI funded post-testing activities, such as submitting DNA to the FBI database and investigating and prosecuting the crimes.

When Jones was charged, the statute of limitations had run out for his first victim. The third had died, and his fourth and fifth victims appeared as witnesses in his trial. What happened to the sixth is not known. Jones was convicted of sexual assault and sentenced to 18 to 40 years in prison. And while no one can put a price tag on the suffering of the women Jones assaulted, or of victims affected by his other crimes, the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office has estimated the financial costs of Jones' 15 prior years in the criminal justice system to be more than $1.5 million. Working under tight budgets, criminal justice components could have used that money instead for activities such as supporting victims or investigating crimes.

The Sexual Assault Kit Initiative provides competitive grants for teams committed to reforming how their jurisdictions deal with cases of sexual assault. SAKI grantees are currently testing more than 150,000 kits. SAKI helps jurisdictions unravel the complicated causes of unsubmitted kits by providing funds to:

  • Inventory, test and track sexual assault kits
  • Collect and submit DNA from offenders to the FBI's Combined DNA Index System
  • Hire crime analysts
  • Investigate and prosecute resulting cases, and support and engage the victims

In fiscal years 2015 and 2016, SAKI provided funding to 32 jurisdictions across the country. Funding in 2017 includes approximately $36 million to 21 sites.

I want to emphasize that the issues underlying the accumulation of kits???such as insufficient personnel, lab work costs, and systemic barriers ??? are complex and interrelated. They do not belong to any one criminal justice field. Vital to the solution are multi-disciplinary groups, such as the Wayne County task force ??? composed of police, prosecutors, laboratory staff, victim advocates, sexual assault examiners and others.

Solving sex crimes and bringing perpetrators to justice requires a thorough understanding of the value of sexual assault evidence and a solid commitment to submitting sexual assault kits for testing. OJP will continue to make its resources available to help jurisdictions reduce their inventory of unsubmitted kits, bring offenders like Ronald Jones to justice, provide answers to victims and restore the safety of our communities.

Two streams of federal funding are available through the Office of Justice Programs to assist with collection and testing of lawfully owed DNA. For more information, see the National Sexual Assault Kit Initiative and DNA Capacity Enhancement and Backlog Reduction Grant Program.

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