At some point in recent years, you have likely heard mention in the news of untested sexual assault kits (SAKs) in Wisconsin and across the country. These kits, potential evidence collected during forensic exams of sexual assault victims, have gone unsubmitted and untested due to a lack of resources and personnel, misunderstanding of crime lab acceptance policies, outdated investigation procedures, and a variety of other reasons.
Something needed to happen to address these issues and the current backlog of kits, and to prevent future backlogs from occurring. Thus the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI) was born to provide funding through a competitive grant program, which aims to create a coordinated community response that ensures just resolution to sexual assault cases through a comprehensive and victim-centered approach, jurisdictional capacity building to prevent high numbers of unsubmitted SAKs in the future, and supporting the investigation and prosecution of cases for which SAKs were previously unsubmitted.
Here in Wisconsin, SAKI awarded a grant to the Department of Justice to pay for unsubmitted SAK testing, create a multidisciplinary team to inventory and track SAKs, provide training and technical assistance, and enhance services and notifications to victims of sexual assault.
In turn, the Wisconsin DOJ announced earlier this summer that it would be accepting applications for funding from sexual assault service providers in the Wisconsin counties with the highest number of unsubmitted SAKs. Racine County was one of those counties, and Sexual Assault Services (SAS) of Lutheran Social Services applied for and was awarded a SAKI grant.
This grant began on July 1, and will provide SAS with funding for a variety of activities over the next two years. With the support of SAKI, SAS has been able to increase staff time to provide more direct service to survivors. We do not yet know what the repercussions will be when results begin to come in from previously unsubmitted and untested SAKs, but we suspect that the demand for supportive services for survivors may increase. SAS is now ready to meet that need, as well as aid law enforcement in notifying victims when previously unsubmitted kits are tested and return a positive DNA hit.
The SAKI grant has also allowed SAS to pay for advertising of program services for the first time in many years. One eye-catching ad is already running on the side of a Racine city bus, and another will soon follow when a second bus becomes available. The ad focuses on publicizing SAS’s 24-hour crisis line, 262-637-7233, and also lists some program services such as counseling, support groups and legal advocacy.
The final component of SAS’s SAKI grant is funding to provide training to the community. The Racine County Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) already organizes a training every two years for professionals involved in the investigation and prosecution of sexual assault cases.
But with SAKI funds, SAS will be bringing in an expert speaker on trauma response and victim behavior to enhance this already valuable training. SAS is grateful for these SAKI funds, because they are helping us to continue to shape Racine into a community where survivors of sexual assault are believed and supported and perpetrators are held accountable — in other words, a safer community.
For more information about Sexual Assault Services or the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative, contact Samantha Sustachek, SAS program supervisor, at 262-619-1634 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
SAS services are provided free of charge to survivors and their support people through funding from the Victims of Crime Act grant, Violence Against Women Act grant, Sexual Assault Victim Services grant, the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative grant, the United Way of Racine County, the Racine Dominican Mission Fund, SC Johnson, the Racine Community Foundation and the generosity of individual donors.