Sexual assault advocates, law enforcement talk victim notification as rape kit backlog clears

09/13/2016 07:28 PM

FRANKFORT — Law enforcement is working at cutting the backlog of 3,090 untested sexual assault kits, a process that received legislative attention this year in Senate Bill 63 and $1.9 million in grant funding from the District Attorney of New York.

But testing those kits has raised an issue police will need to handle: contacting the victims in those cases, some of which date back decades.

Speakers at Tuesday’s SAFE Summit panel on sexual assault investigations, heard by more than 150 law enforcement professionals at the Administrative Office of the Courts, say that can be challenging for police, especially in departments without units dedicated to sexual assault cases.

John Moberly, commissioner of the Department of Criminal Investigations, said there are only 11 such units across the state. He urged those with training in sexual assault investigations to offer their expertise to departments where such skills are lacking.

“You may be working an injury accident one minute or a barking dog complaint the next, then working a full-blown rape the next, and for a lot of you, I just mention this, there’s a lot of turnover in these local departments, and so you may never even receive training on how to interview victims,” Moberly said.


“In the academy, the state police academy you learn from the very beginning how to interview, how to talk to a perpetrator, how to protect yourself, but you never really spend a whole lot of time learning how to interview a victim, how to interview a very vulnerable sexual assault victim, and so that’s where we all need to up our game,” he added.

Lt. Carolyn Nunn of the Louisville Metro Police Department, said police shouldn’t be ashamed of the accumulated backlog, but instead dedicated to fixing it.

She recalled speaking by phone with a woman who was raped in Louisville in 1974 asking out of the blue about the status of her sexual assault kit.

“So then I have to call the lab,” Nunn said. “… Where’s the evidence? OK, evidence got destroyed in 1980-something by our department, but I find a lab slip that says yes, there was semen found in her kit, and I’m thinking great. I call the lab. Well, that’s about two years before we started saving samples when we started finding semen, so we don’t have that.”

A set of fingerprints believed to belong to the attacker was also destroyed. Nunn said the department didn’t start retaining such records until 1977.

“So I’m thinking, great, now I’ve got to call this lady and tell her, ‘I don’t have anything for you,’” Nunn said.

Eileen Recktenwald, executive director of the Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs, also said stakeholders should focus on moving forward rather than affixing blame for the backlog.

Stephenie Hoelscher, a consultant with KASAP, said police face the unpleasant task of reopening painful wounds for victims of sexual assault, but their job is to minimize the trauma.

She said it’s important for survivors of sexual assault and rape to know when their kits are tested and not be left in the darkness, and that advocates and victims have suggested pairing law enforcement with sexual assault groups to update victims on the progress of their cases.

“We knew that you’re not equipped or trained to deal with the trauma aspects of this notification,” Hoelscher said. “That is why it is key for you to pair up with the advocates in your region so that they can step in and offer the services that are out there to provide comfort, to sort of … help victims manage those emotions.”

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.

1 Comments

Comments

  • viewer wrote on September 14, 2016 01:09 PM :

    Watching all of this come together, from the politicians to law enforcement to victim advocates, all working together for a cause, goes to show that if we put our pettiness and partisan bickering to the side, things can get accomplished. There is a lot more to do here, and many obstacles to overcome, but this has been one of the few bright spots we have seen in a long time.

    I want to give special credit to Eileen Recktenwald. I can remember, when CN2 first came on the air. Ryan Alessi interviewed Ms. Recktenwald and another lady about the needs of these women. Ever since that airing, Ms. Recktenwald has proven that through determination things can get better. She along with countless others deserve tremendous credit for seeing all of this through. They have been a blessing to so many here in Kentucky. For a change, it is nice to see good people get the results that they set out to achieve.

    I would also like to give credit to Lexington Herald Leader’s Linda Blackford. I am a big fan of Linda Blackford’s work and have followed her over the years. Linda’s work at the Herald has helped to bring light to victims on our college campuses around the state, specifically those sexual assaults that have taken place on UK and EKU’s campuses. I would ask for more to get involved and show support for what Linda Blackford is doing. I hope that members of the General Assembly and the Attorney General’s Office are paying close attention to what Linda Blackford is writing about.

    This is a little bit different than what this thread is about, but it is still in the same vein of sorts.

    I believe it was 2015 that the KSP Cyber Unit came before the General Assembly about funding. The officers who testified said that they were woefully understaffed, and that the child predators and pedophiles were multiplying in numbers. I can’t remember the exact totals, but I’m going to say that it was that they catch 1 in every 10 who try to get in contact with our children. That number might not be correct, but I think it is close to the best of my recollection. I would like to see Sec. John Tilley and Sen. Whitney Westerfield find the funding to help out here with the KSP Cyber Unit. If we could get at least 5 more on the team, that is 5 that wasn’t already there. Here in central Kentucky we are seeing more and more perverts arrested trying to hook up with children.

    To Nick Storm: Nick, if you could, try to get some people in from the KSP Cyber Unit. Maybe they can bring someone in from the U.S. Attorney General’s Office, who prosecutes these cases, to give us more information of the needs and how to protect our children while on the internet. The viewer.

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