Kansas law enforcement officers and sexual assault victim advocates shared optimism Thursday a new statewide strategy would prevent a repeat of problems created when thousands of assault kits were shelved before subjected to submitted analysis by laboratories.
The Kansas Bureau of Investigation also announced the launch of a public awareness campaign to confront social biases related to sexual assault.
KBI relied upon a $2 million grant to identify factors contributing to propensity of local law enforcement agencies in Kansas to withhold at least 2,220 assault kits from testing by laboratories. The KBI lab in Topeka and the Johnson County Forensic Lab, during the past five years, tested 90% of these previously unsubmitted kits and expect to finish the job by November.
Forensic testing enabled 373 biological profiles from the evidence to be entered into the Combined DNA Indexing System, or CODIS, and resulted in 234 CODIS investigation leads. As a result, two cases have been successfully prosecuted and another resulted in acquittal. Several cases are pending at the local level.
"Since the KBI proactively initiated these efforts more than five years ago, a great amount of work has been done to test the backlog of kits and to address the underlying issues that led to the backlog," said Derek Schmidt, the state's attorney general.
Assessment of the failure by investigators and prosecutors across Kansas to forward assault kits to laboratories revealed barriers to proper handling of the evidence included lack of training, resources and policy guidance, as well as societal awareness. The unsubmitted kits retrieved from local law enforcement agencies by the KBI dated as far back as 1989.
The KBI used federal funding to commission development of the statewide public awareness campaign focused on educating Kansans about prevalence and reality of sexual violence. The broadcast television and online digital campaign seeks to overcome normalization of sexual crime and other biases surrounding what was referred to as "rape culture."
In conjunction with the project, more than 1,300 Kansas professionals were trained on trauma-informed sexual assault investigation and the importance of a multidisciplinary response to the crime. The state issued a recommendation that all sexual assault kits undergo laboratory testing.
Joyce Grover, executive director of the Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence, said responses to sexual assault were historically fragmented and served to deter reporting of offenses.
"Victims often have to navigate difficult systems with limited support," Grover said. "This project has addressed work that was long overdue in Kansas."
She said better coordination across the state and recognition of the value of victim advocacy and informed responses to sexual violence could foster big changes in Kansas.