Sexual Assault Kit Task Force and CWRU get $3 million in grants from U.S. Department of Justice
Cleveland – The U.S. Department of Justice has approved two grants totaling $3 million to the Cuyahoga County Sexual Assault Kit Task Force and its research partners at Case Western Reserve University.
This money will help the Task Force -- a collaboration of the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office, the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Department, the Cleveland Division of Police Sex Crimes Unit, the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation and the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center -- continue investigating and prosecuting cases that arise from the DNA testing of evidence collected as much as two decades ago. It will also fund a national pilot aimed at expanding the database that identifies suspects based on that testing.
The Task Force will get about $1.5 million over the next three years from the federal government to pay investigators and victim advocates. Roughly $30,000 of the grant is earmarked for trainings and materials developed by the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center.
“Our Rape Kit Task Force is honored to receive this award from the Justice Department and to be recognized as one of the nation’s most effective law enforcement initiatives,” said Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty. “We have already indicted more than 500 defendants and a third of them are serial rapists. Our work means that hundreds of women won’t be raped in the future because these rape kits are being tested, investigated and prosecuted.”
Another $460,000 from the DOJ grant will go to Case Western Reserve University’s Begun Center for Violence Prevention Research and Education to collect and report on performance measures and to continue analyzing data generated by the work of the Task Force.
Earlier this year, the CWRU researchers published the first in a series of briefs that examined, among other topics, the demographics of the women whose kits were not tested in a timely fashion, the characteristics of serial rapists and the savings to the community that come from investigating and prosecuting cases when rape kits are tested.
"We look forward to building on our successful partnership with the Task Force in seeking justice for survivors and making our communities safer," said Rachel Lovell, a senior research associate at the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences at Case Western Reserve University. “Our research will point the way for how to best support survivors, while informing practices and policies to engender systemic change — not only in Cuyahoga County, but across the country."
The Task Force was formed in early 2013 to pursue leads generated by DNA testing of what we know to be some 6,700 rape kits collected in Cuyahoga County between 1993 and 2010. The testing is done by BCI and when a DNA profile is found, it is matched against those in the national Combined DNA Index System (CODIS).
Besides the Department of Justice, the Task Force receives generous financial support from Cuyahoga County Council and County Executive Armond Budish and from Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine.
So far, the Task Force has completed follow-up investigations on 2,332 kits that were tested by BCI, and that has led to the indictment of 527 defendants. Of the 236 defendants whose cases are reached a final decision, 219 — or 93 percent — have been convicted. Another 3,498 investigations are currently underway.
“We need to finish the job,” said Prosecutor McGinty, “and this grant will help us do so.”
The Justice Department also has awarded the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office and the Begun Center a $1 million grant for a new three-year initiative designed to make the CODIS database even more robust.
“Getting more profiles into the national database will lead to more hits, more cases solved and more convictions,” said Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Brett Kyker, who manages the Cuyahoga County Task Force.
Researchers from CWRU will identify individuals from Cuyahoga County who were convicted of a felony after 1997 or were arrested for a felony after 2010, but who, for whatever reason, were not swabbed for DNA as Ohio law requires. After developing a list of those who “owe” DNA, the partners will attempt to collect as many of those samples as possible.
"Our research will aim to identify offenders who should have their DNA in the federal database — but currently do not — in an effort to find and prosecute serial sex offenders," said CWRU’s Lovell, co-author of the research briefs available online
detailing the work of the Task Force so far.
In total, the Justice Department this week announced grants of more than $38 million to jurisdictions around the country that are clearing rape kit backlogs.
“Reducing the backlog of untested sexual assault kits is a complex issue that requires a comprehensive, evidence-based and community-supported approach to resolve,” Denise O’Donnell, director of the Bureau of Justice Assistance, said in announcing the grants. “These grants provide resources and improve processes to test kits, provide training to law enforcement
personnel and improve the justice system while providing justice and resolution to the victims of sexual assault.”
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