State mandated review of Juneau’s untested sexual assault kits is underway

Juneau Police Department officials say they’re auditing all sexual assault kits that have been stored and left unprocessed in the last 17 years.

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During a recent meeting of a city task force on public safety, city and police officials provided context for an issue highlighted in a recent Juneau Empire article.

Juneau was singled out for having one of the biggest backlogs of unprocessed kits.

Deputy City Manager Mila Cosgrove said a total of 374 kits have been collected since 2000. Of those, 171 were sent to the state crime laboratory in Anchorage for processing.

The other 203 were not processed for a variety of reasons.

Cosgrove said that included the district attorney’s office deciding not to prosecute a case. Perhaps the victim or suspect died. Or, maybe both people knew each other and both said there was sexual activity.

“The issue is not whether or not activity occurred,” Cosgrove said, “but whether or not that activity is consensual.”

Deputy Chief David Campbell of the Juneau Police Department said he’s about a third of the way through an audit of the 203 unprocessed kits tied to a total of 172 cases.

In some instances, kits were collected from the victim and a suspect in a single case.

“I don’t want to sound callous because even one kit that is not processed when it should be is a travesty,” Campbell said. “But when you break down the numbers, the numbers are a lot lower than they would appear if you had just said 203.”

Campbell told task force members that over a hundred of those cases were actually referred to the district attorney’s office, but — in some instances — the kit may have been unnecessary for prosecution.

In addition, there were unprocessed kits for 32 cases, but in those cases the allegations were determined to be unfounded.

Unprocessed kits for just over 50 cases were labeled as inactive for various reasons, such as the death of the victim or suspect.

“All of the ones, so far, that I’ve looked at, I understand why the decision was made to make it an inactive case,” Campbell said. “I haven’t found any yet during the audit that are like ‘Wow. This should’ve been sent off and hasn’t been.’”

Still, AWARE executive director Saralyn Tabachnick is concerned about the impact on victims from those 203 unprocessed kits.

“There’s an expectation that going through a rape kit, which can be a traumatic experience, there’s an expectation that something is going to come from that,” Tabachnick said. “That the rape kit will be processed, right? So, that it’s not, I think is problematic.”

Campbell told task force members that he’d prefer all of the unprocessed kits be sent on to the crime lab for analysis.

Tabachnick agrees.

“That validates the victim,” Tabachnick said. “That identifies serial rapists, and that moves us closer to justice.”

In June, Governor Bill Walker signed Senate Bill 55 into law that requires an audit of untested sexual assault kits.

As of November, Campbell said the state crime lab asked them to send all new kits for “analysis or storage.” He said the lab will likely ask later for the 203 unprocessed kits.

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Matt Miller is a reporter at KTOO in Juneau.

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