By Laura Jessick, SAKI Victim Notification Project Manager
All around the country, states are working to address the issue of untested and unsubmitted rape kits, often referred to as sexual assault evidence kits (SAEKs). Since 2017, Maryland agencies, including MCASA, have been working together to test the backlog of untested rape kits, provide victim services, investigate alleged crimes, and prosecute cases. Maryland has since received funding for this through the National Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI), which seeks to create a coordinated community response that supports victims and seeks justice for those affected by these crimes.
As the Maryland SAKI project moves forward, law enforcement agencies are beginning to submit previously untested rape kits to the crime lab for DNA analysis. Once each kit has been analyzed, law enforcement agencies will receive the DNA testing results and revisit any potential criminal investigation. This will include working with an MCASA SAKI Advocate to contact each survivor to discuss the kit testing results and provide a sincere apology for the mishandling of their case.
Survivors that have been affected by the backlog of unsubmitted and untested rape kits are likely to have questions about the SAKI project, the testing of their kit, and if law enforcement will be contacting them. To provide opportunities for survivors to have these questions answered, MCASA has opened an information line and email support option that will connect each survivor with a SAKI Advocate to discuss their case.
Survivors that use the information line and email support options will have the opportunity to outline when and how they would like to be contacted by law enforcement about their previously untested kit. When speaking with an MCASA SAKI Advocate, survivors will also receive resource referrals to local rape crisis centers and sexual assault programs for additional support services and to the Sexual Assault Legal Institute for assistance with legal considerations.
It is natural for survivors affected by the backlog to feel overwhelming and confusing emotions. Experiencing fear, anxiety, and anger are natural responses. MCASA hopes to support survivors by providing each survivor with opportunities to control individual involvement in the process and empower survivors to dictate how and when they will be contacted. MCASA also recognizes the unprecedented stress of the COVID-19 pandemic and seeks to mitigate stress related to rape kit testing by limiting direct outreach to survivors during the pandemic. However, survivors that are interested in receiving updates during the pandemic will be able to request this. Additionally, there may be circumstances in which outreach to a survivor cannot be delayed despite the pandemic. As a result, an MCASA SAKI Advocate will be conducting all outreach and notifications with law enforcement to ensure that emotional needs are addressed and retraumatization is limited.
To speak with an MCASA SAKI Advocate, survivors can call MCASA’s confidential SAKI information line at 833-364-0046, or email [email protected].
MCASA SAKI Advocates are available Monday – Friday, except holidays, 10 am – 5 pm. SAKI Advocates are available during the COVID-19 pandemic.
To help get the word out to survivors, MCASA has created digital content for use on social media and webpages. This digital toolkit contains a flyer for digital use, as well as one for easy home or office printing, and graphics for use on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. These items are available in both English and Spanish and can be accessed on the MCASA website at www.mcasa.org/survivors/saki.