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MT sexual assault task force gathers to discuss future plans, Senate Bill 52

Posted at 9:47 AM, May 08, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-08 11:47:53-04

HELENA – Members of the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI) Task Force met Tuesday at the Montana State Law Enforcement Academy to discuss the project and what the future holds for victims of sexual assault.

The subject of conversation was not a light one: speaking about the process of the invasive procedure and the science behind it all with a small team of serologists, who all work in collaboration when testing for DNA of the perpetrator after an assault.

Within the conversation about the science behind helping victims, one topic of choice was the discussion of Attorney General Tim Fox’s initiative regarding Senate Bill 52, victim rights and the development of the kit tracking system and its successes.

Senate Bill 52 will impact the collection and processing of evidence for kits in the state of Montana.

Currently, nine to 12 cases are analyzed weekly by serologists, who test for the Y chromosomes during the quantification of male DNA. Statistics show 431 cases have been confirmed by the kit’s accuracy and 812 cases are still pending results.

SAKI was given a federal grant of $2 million in 2016 to test and track unsubmitted evidence for kits from across the state.

Chief Deputy Attorney General Jon Bennion spoke to MTN News about what steps will be taken for the future of those affected by sexual assault.

“That’s part of the whole, what we are doing right now, is — how do we make sure that when somebody has gone through that entire process, that law enforcement, prosecutors, that victim advocates, that we, do everything we can and leave no stone unturned, on those sex assault kits?”

“It could be evidence of a crime that was committed and used in the prosecution and bring an offender to justice, and bring some closure to survivors of sexual assault. That’s really the whole point of this project,” Bennion continued.

The SAKI Task Force was started in 2015 and meets regularly to update efforts to end the backlog of untested sexual assault evidence kits.

Another major topic was the passage of SB 52 which requires health care facilities to get written consent from patients before turning kits over to law enforcement.

Once consent is obtained, the facility has 24 hours to notify investigative agencies.

Any agency that takes possession of one of the evidence kits has 30 days to submit evidence and the following police report to an accredited crime lab for testing.

The Montana Department of Justice must also create a system providing victims with an anonymous way to track the evidence kits via criminal justice processes.

Montana started with more than 1,200 untested evidence kits from more than 40 jurisdictions.

-Christine Sullivan reporting for MTN News