Sexual Assault Initiative Conference Brings Nationwide Professionals to Duluth

Officials discussed best practices in dealing with rape and sexual assault crimes

DULUTH, Minn. – In 2015, the City of Duluth had nearly six hundred untested sexual assault kits in the evidence room that hadn’t been sent in for DNA testing.

Earlier this year, they cleared the backlog and got that number down to zero.

But thousands of backlogged kits still exist across the country.

Duluth is hosting a national conference at the DECC to discuss best practices in dealing with rapes and sexual assaults and ending the backlog.

In recent years, some field experts say there have been two major changes to the way sexual assault crimes are handled: Victims are being treated more compassionately, and law enforcement is pursuing offenders more aggressiveley.

Testing all sexual assault kits for DNA and keeping a database of the results is one way officials are holding offenders accountable.

They’ve discovered when they take sex offenders off the streets they prevent many other crimes in communities like theft and breaking and entering.

“They used to make a decision on should we test this kit for this case, now they test everything because they figured out we’re going to learn something. They might have a he said she said case but then they’ve tracked this guy to other kits and have other assaults so they might be a serial rapist and you don’t know it because you’re just looking at this he said she said case,” explained Christopher Johnston, a freelance journalist and author who is a panelist at the conference.

The Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault has applied for a grant to help them eliminate the backlogged sexual assault kits across the state.

Officials there hope to learn from Duluth’s example of law enforcement, prosecutors, and victim advocates working together to address the problem.

“Duluth got this grant so they were able to dedicate resources to really focusing on the problem but also again, Duluth has a national and international reputation for interdisciplinary work,” said Jude Foster with the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

Grants like the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative are important for cities to get the resources necessary to combat sexual assault.

Advances in technology allow for kits to be tested a lot faster than twenty years ago.

It used to cost $5,000 to test a kit, now it only costs about $400.

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