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A sexual assault kit (SAK) is a cardboard box that contains envelopes, swabs, and paperwork. The items inside the box are used to collect evidence during a forensic exam at a hospital or clinic after a sexual assault by a specially trained sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE). The items are then placed in the box and sealed for proper evidence storage and picked up by law enforcement from the hospital where the exam was conducted.
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SAKI is an acronym for the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative. SAKI is a nationwide initiative that addresses the issue of unsubmitted sexual assault kits (SAKs). The City of Denton Police Department has been awarded $499,480 in federal grants to address this issue in Denton.
SAKI is critical to enhancing the criminal justice response to sexual assault and ensuring justice for victims. SAKI funding will not only help link victims to advocates and needed services, but also help jurisdictions implement best practices and comprehensive reform to help bring perpetrators to justice and increase safety in communities by preventing future sexual assaults.
There is currently no reliable estimate for the number of sexual assault kits (SAKs) that have not been submitted to a crime laboratory; however, the reasons behind the backlog are complex. Unsubmitted SAKs can be attributed to many factors, including poor evidence tracking, outdated and ineffective investigation practices, lack of resources and personnel, misunderstanding of crime lab case acceptance policies, and lack of understanding among law enforcement personnel about the value of testing SAKs. Resolving these issues is critical to providing justice for victims and preventing such a backlog in the future.
First, a citywide inventory of the number of unsubmitted sexual assault kits was conducted. Upon completion of this inventory, it was determined that the Denton Police Department had 781 unsubmitted sexual assault kits. The next step is to test the sexual assault kits, contact victims when results are obtained, and work with law enforcement, advocacy, and prosecution in cases that are developed from the testing process. Another component of SAKI is to evaluate Denton’s process for sexual assault response and make recommendations to ensure that these responses are conducted in a victim-centered, trauma-informed manner.
Most sexual assault kits are conducted within 120 hours of the assault occurring. These exams are generally conducted at a hospital. However, there are other licensed clinics that will conduct the forensic exam.
Medical professionals conduct the forensic exam. This could be a nurse, physician, or a nurse specially trained in conducting sexual assault forensic exams (SANEs). The forensic exam is just one service that medical professionals provide for victims of sexual assault. Other services include a medical exam, medications (such as emergency contraceptive and/or medication to help prevent transmission of sexually transmitted infections), and testing.
DNA stands for Deoxyribonucleic Acid. One way to think about DNA is that it is the blueprint for life. The DNA that is present in most cells in a person’s body determines what eye color and hair color that the person will have, how tall the person will be, and to some extent, the person’s temperament, as just a few examples. Just like when you are building a house, you would have a blueprint to tell you how large the living room will be, for example. Our cells also have a blueprint, which is the DNA that gives each individual person their unique traits (barring identical twins).
DNA is one type of evidence that may exist in sexual assault cases. When conducted within a certain time frame, the sexual assault kit is intended to collect any evidence, including DNA, that exists from the assault. This evidence, when properly stored, can be evaluated by a forensic laboratory at a later date. If DNA is present, the profile developed from that DNA may be used to identify a suspect. If DNA is not present, it does not mean that the assault did not occur.
A string of values compiled from the results of DNA testing at one or more genetic markers. A DNA profile appears as a series of peaks at 24 different fragments of DNA or test sites. Those peaks will be different in different individuals, allowing the DNA scientist to tell the two individuals apart.
DNA can be left behind in biological material from an individual. Typically, DNA is deposited at a crime scene from the following biologicals: tissue, blood, seminal fluid, hair, saliva, or skin cells.
A laboratory analyzes biological materials left on evidence submitted by law enforcement agencies. The DNA unit typically does a visual examination for biological stains and a chemical screening test to indicate the presence of stains. If these tests screen positive, a sample of the suspected biological stain is collected, and DNA is then extracted from the stain. Once the stain is extracted, the DNA unit will quantify the amount of DNA present in the sample. If there is sufficient human DNA present, the sample will be amplified and run on a Genetic Analyzer instrument.
CODIS is the acronym for the Combined DNA Index System and is the generic term used to describe the FBI’s program of support for criminal justice DNA databases as well as the software used to run these databases. The National DNA Index System (NDIS) is considered one part of CODIS, the national level, containing the DNA profiles contributed by federal, state, and local participating forensic laboratories.
For more information, visit the FBI's website.
Once a DNA profile is developed, this profile can be searched against a database of convicted offender DNA profiles. If the DNA profile matches with a convicted offender, the laboratory will need to confirm the match and obtain the identity of the suspect. The DNA profile can also be searched against a database of crime scene DNA profiles. If there is a match through this database, the laboratory will need to confirm the match. If this match is confirmed, it will link the two crime scenes together. “Linking” crime scenes does not automatically resolve a case, but it is a good reason for investigative personnel to further investigate both crimes.
No, the victim's DNA does not go into CODIS.
If there is a CODIS hit, the suspect may be identified. If there is a CODIS hit to an offender, a suspect may be identified. If there is a CODIS hit to another forensic case, then the suspect may have not been identified. If both involved cases have no individuals identified as a possible suspect, then the CODIS hit only confirms that the two crimes were likely committed by the same person, but that person’s identity is unknown.
If DNA evidence is not found, there will be no DNA profiles to make comparisons to or against, and a negative DNA report will be issued. The Denton Police Department may then review the case to determine if there is additional evidence that can be tested or additional information that may require follow up.
The issue of unsubmitted sexual assault kits is not unique to Denton. This is a nationwide issue that is being addressed. There are many reasons a sexual assault kit may not have been tested, such as a lack of department resources, or a victim may have not wanted to have their kit tested.
In 2019, Denton began inquiring about how many unsubmitted sexual assault kits existed that had accumulated since the 1980s. The Denton Police Department applied for a grant through the Bureau of Justice Assistance that would help address the issue of unsubmitted sexual assault kits in Denton. This funding provides money to contract with labs to test the unsubmitted sexual assault kits.
In most cases, the suspect will not be contacted until after the victim has been notified. At the time of notification, the victim will be asked if they wish to re-engage with the process. If the victim decides to re-engage, the suspect may be contacted to proceed with the investigation. The victim can utilize advocacy and law enforcement services to safety-plan prior to the offender being notified.
If a victim would like more information about their case or their kit specifically, or If you would like to know more about SAKI, please contact:
Individual case information will not be discussed over the phone. Individuals may set an appointment to personally discuss their cases, but they will be expected to present a photographic identification so the Police Department does not unknowingly release personal information not available to the public.