It’s taken a long time — far too long — but the announcement that the State of Alaska expects to finally complete the testing of a large backlog of sexual assault test kits by Dec. 31 is good news.
The announcement made by Gov. Mike Dunleavy on Friday signals the completion of an initiative started in 2015 by then Gov. Bill Walker.
That year, Walker prompted a preliminary inventory that located about 3,800 untested sexual assault test kits across the state in 2016, according the information from the national End The Backlog program.
The federal Department of Justices’ Bureau of Justice Assistance awarded the Alaska Department of Public Safety grants through the National Sexual Assault Kit Initiative in 2016 and 2017 to assess and make progress in reducing the backlog.
“We owe it to victims and their families to deliver justice to perpetrators and bring closure to these tragic experiences,” Walker said at the time that the state received the first $1.1 million SAKI grant, according to a December 2020 story in the Anchorage Daily News.
The Alaska Legislature in 2016 approved a requirement for DPS to conduct an inventory of untested kits. The resulting 2018 report showed a backlog of 2,568 untested kits, according to End the Backlog. The Legislature in 2018 appropriated $2.75 million to process and store sexual assault test kits, in addition to approving further legislation aimed at annual inventories of untested kits and providing law enforcement training in sexual assault case processing
In October 2020, the federal Department of Justice provided a $999,000 SAKi grant for monitoring and accounting of sexual assault kits from collection through final disposition.
In August of this year, Dunleavy announced a new program to improve testing efficiency, and provide better tracking of evidence by survivors and law enforcement.
On Friday, he announced that 51 kits remain in the lab, “in the final stages of testing” to finish the project to address the project by Dec. 31.
“We’ve put in place internal steps to prevent this kind of backlog from ever happening again and added resources to the State crime lab to ensure every kit is tested within 90 days or sooner,” Dunleavy said in a prepared statement.
That’s a goal that Alaskans should support fully. The woeful truth is that, as of 2019 federal data, Alaska has the highest rate of sexual assault in the United States. We must ensure that the tools for bringing perpetrators to justice are used correctly, and in a timely manner.