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Montana awarded supplemental grant to continue testing, tracking unsubmitted sex assault kits

From MT Attorney General

HELENA — Attorney General Tim Fox announced that Montana has been awarded a supplemental federal grant to continue its work on testing and tracking unsubmitted sex-assault evidence kits across the state.

At the request of Attorney General Fox’s Sexual Assault Evidence Task Force, the Montana Board of Crime Control submitted an application to the federal Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) for a supplemental National Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI) Competitive Grant, requesting $917,740. 

“We want sex assault victims to have full confidence in Montana’s criminal justice system,” said Attorney General Tim Fox. “This supplemental grant will enable us to continue our work in ensuring that victims of sex assault will feel safe in coming forward to report to law enforcement what happened to them, and that we will get them the justice they deserve.”

In addition to utilizing the additional $917,740 for sex assault kit storage and testing, the Montana Department of Justice anticipates the grant money will be used for modifications to its sexual assault kit tracking system and purchasing sex assault kits for the Montana Forensic Rape Examination Payment Program.

The work of the SAKI team, which is part of the Montana Department of Justice’s Division of Criminal Investigation, will now be extended for an additional year through September 30, 2020, thanks to the supplemental grant funds. In addition to a SAKI Coordinator, project staff include a SAKI Law Enforcement Sexual Assault Training Coordinator at the Montana Law Enforcement Academy, and a soon-to-be-hired SAKI Victim Advocate, as well a Cold Case Investigator.

At a meeting of his Sexual Assault Evidence Task Force in Helena on Monday, Attorney General Fox praised its members as well as the SAKI team for the progress being made on moving Montana’s untested sex assault kits forward for testing. Currently, 225 of the 1,140 untested kits have been sent to a contracted lab for processing. Once testing has been completed, the results will be sent to a contracted university for technical review, and the information will be added to CODIS, a federal database, where it could be linked to other cases. 

Last fall, Montana received a $2 million grant from the BJA. The National Sexual Assault Kit Initiative grant provides an opportunity for Montana to inventory, test, and track unsubmitted sexual assault kits, examine the issues surrounding why the kits were not submitted, and facilitate a development of victim-centered policies and procedures in responding to sexual assaults and eliminating unsubmitted kits. At that same time, Montana also received a federal National Institute of Justice grant for nearly $285,000 to build a database to help track the kits.

In December 2015, the Attorney General’s Office contacted every county sheriff and city police chief in Montana asking for a census of unsubmitted kits in their possession. They were asked to provide the total number of unsubmitted kits, the date of each kit, and general reasons why each kit was not submitted to the state crime laboratory. During that same month, Attorney General Fox appointed the Montana Sexual Assault Evidence Task Force. He directed its members to examine the issue of unsubmitted kits in Montana and to develop policies and protocols for submission of kits for forensic testing.

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