ANNAPOLIS, MD – The Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention (GOCCP), the Office of the Attorney General (OAG), the Maryland State Police and the Md. Coalition Against Sexual Assault today announced the receipt of a $2.6 million grant from the Department of Justice’s Sexual Assault Kit Initiative to assist victims of sexual assault.
The grant, which will be administered by GOCCP and project led by the OAG, will be used for testing of untested or unsubmitted sexual assault evidence kits (SAEKs) at law enforcement agencies across the state; the development of a statewide SAEK tracking system; and the hiring of specialized victim advocates to engage in victim-centered notification, communication, and support activities.
In 2016, the Maryland General Assembly passed Senate Bill 498, requiring law enforcement agencies in the State of Maryland to audit their untested kits and report the results to the Office of the Attorney General. The audit revealed approximately 3,700 untested SAEKs statewide.
Based on the findings of the audit, in 2017, Attorney General Frosh released a report on untested SAEKs that included certain recommendations, including the creation of the Sexual Assault Evidence Kit Policy and Funding Committee, chaired by the Attorney General. The committee was tasked with developing uniform standards on SAEK availability, collecting, testing, and storage.
“This grant was a collaborative effort to protect and assist victims of sexual assault,” said GOCCP Executive Director V. Glenn Fueston, Jr. GOCCP oversees a number of sexual assault grant programs. “We hope this grant will provide resolution for victims and lead to the arrest of the people who hurt them.”
“The SAKI grant will provide law enforcement with the resources to bring consistency to the process of sexual assault evidence collection and testing, and to identify and hold sexual assailants accountable,” said Attorney General Frosh. “I appreciate the work of the members of the SAEK committee as we continue our work to increase access to justice for victims of sexual assault.”
Qualifying DNA data will be uploaded into Maryland’s DNA database, coordinated by the Maryland State Police Forensic Sciences Division. This database will also provide access and comparison to samples in the national Combined DNA Index System.
While the Maryland State Police Forensic Sciences Division crime laboratory does not have a backlog of sexual assault kits pending analysis, this funding helps Maryland begin the process of analyzing sexual assault kits that had not been submitted for testing for reasons that may include prosecutors or investigators determining that testing was not needed for a specific case. As a result of the effectiveness of Maryland’s DNA database, efforts are now underway to potentially extract DNA evidence from untested kits and ensure the evidence is used to expand investigative abilities in cases of sexual assault.
“This grant will enable law enforcement to expand the use of DNA technology to identify and apprehend those responsible for sexual assaults,” Maryland State Police Superintendent Colonel William Pallozzi said. “Our priority is to ensure Maryland’s DNA database is being used as efficiently as possible in our ongoing efforts to reduce violent crime and protect our citizens.”
“The SAKI grant provides for testing of old rape kits and, as a result, may reopen criminal investigations that have been inactive for many years,” said Lisae C Jordan, Executive Director of the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault. “It’s critical that we approach sexual assault survivors in these cases with sensitivity and respect for their wishes. This grant recognizes the needs of survivors by supporting advocates to help them understand their rights and options.”
Since its launch in 2015, SAKI has improved the response to sexual assault by identifying and apprehending violent offenders and by addressing the problem of unsubmitted sexual assault kits. To date, more than 45,000 sexual assault kits have been inventoried by 32 SAKI jurisdictions that represent 26 states. Over 12,000 kits have been sent for testing and nearly 1,000 DNA hits to the national CODIS database have already been made.