As part of his mission to seek justice for victims of sexual assault, Attorney General Andy Beshear is partnering with the University of Louisville to provide accountability in Kentucky’s efforts to address the sexual assault forensic exam (SAFE) kit backlog.
Beshear said the Kentucky SAFE Kit Backlog Research Project, announced yesterday with the university’s Department of Criminal Justice, will provide valuable data to ensure a rape kit backlog never happens again.
The project will aid Kentucky’s law enforcement and victim advocacy communities when responding to sexual assaults and further transform sexual assault investigations and prosecutions.
The overall goals of the project are to examine the outcomes of kit testing, identify data-driven, victim-centered responses to sexual assault and provide justice to victims, Beshear said.
“This important project allows us to further support sexual assault victims in the pursuit of justice and to ensure no victim ever has their courage locked in a box on a self ever again,” Beshear said. “I am proud that we are not only ending the backlog, but are also committing to do better. As a community that cares about victims, we will learn important, much-needed data from this project.”
Dr. Bradley Campbell with U of L’s Department of Criminal Justice will serve as principal investigator on the project.
“I am excited about the opportunity to work with the Commonwealth to study this under researched area,” Dr. Campbell said. “The project represents an innovative and progressive commitment from AG Beshear and his office to add a research component to statewide testing efforts. Through this funding, the University of Louisville research team will be one of the first to examine the problem of untested SAFE kits at the state level.”
Dr. Campbell said specifically the study will collect baseline data in the cases associated with untested kits, examine connections of tested cases, evaluate pre-arrest decisions, training efforts and the impact of legislation, and provide evidence-based policy recommendations.
Kentucky’s state auditor uncovered more than 3,000 SAFE kits languishing in police departments and in the Kentucky State Police crime lab in 2015.
Upon taking office, Beshear made ending Kentucky’s backlog and providing justice for rape victims a top priority.
In 2016, Beshear provided $4.5 million in settlement money to lawmakers to fund requested Kentucky State Police crime lab upgrades. The SAFE Act of 2016 ensures the submission of all SAFE kits, requires police receive training to conduct victim-centered sexual assault investigations and that timelines are set for testing kits.
Beshear’s office provided an additional $1 million from the settlement to aid law enforcement and prosecutors in the investigation and prosecution of sexual assault cases.
In launching the Kentucky SAFE Kit Backlog Research Project, Kentucky is one of the first in the nation to examine the SAFE kit backlog at the state level, and the project places Kentucky at the forefront of national efforts to respond to the problem of backlogged sexual assault kits.
To date, single jurisdictions like in Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles and New Orleans conducted studies. Kentucky’s study will most closely replicate the Houston Sexual Assault Kit Action-Research Project, but at the state level.
Like other projects, a website and regular reports with stakeholders will help to inform the public of project findings.
Kentucky’s project was established through a competitive procurement process and will be funded using nearly $50,000 from Risperdal lawsuit settlement funds, as provided for in the state budget.
Beshear said his Office of Victim Advocacy and Department of Criminal Investigations are supporting KSP, Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs, local law enforcement, prosecutors and victim advocates across the state in the implementation of the Safe Act.
Beshear’s office held a SAFE summit in September and is currently helping to train those working to end Kentucky’s SAFE kit backlog on how to conduct victim-centered investigations and prosecute sexual assault offenders.
In addition to working to seek justice for victims of rape, Beshear’s core missions for the Office of the Attorney General includes safeguarding children from sexual abuse, protecting senior citizens from scams and fraud and finding solutions to the state’s drug epidemic.