The final piece of Connecticut’s tracking system for sexual assault forensic evidence kits – a sheet of instructions for survivors to track the progress of their evidence kit as it is sent to the state forensic laboratory for testing — is nearly complete.
The tracking system began operating in March 2017 as the state worked to clear a backlog of 1,188 forensic evidence kits that local and state police departments had not submitted to the state laboratory for testing.
“This is the last missing piece of the puzzle,” Kristin Sasinouski, deputy director of forensic biology and DNA at the state forensic laboratory said.
Sasinouski oversees the forensic biology unit that includes 40 staff members, who process about 650-700 sexual assault kits a year and about 6,000-8,500 cases in total.
The new system allows survivors to track the kit through the evidence process with a barcode, much like a UPS customer can track a package, explained Connecticut Alliance to End Sexual Violence Executive Director Beth Hamilton.
In fact, the laboratory worked with UPS to develop the tracking system, Sasinouski said. The system is fully funded by federal grants through September 2022. At that point the program will cost the state $600 a month to operate, she said.
“There’s an incredible amount of stigma associated with sexual violence, and oftentimes it becomes something that folks want to be very private about,” Hamilton said. “So it gives an ease of access to information that’s critically helpful for survivors.”
According to Hamilton, there has been a focus on standardizing the process for police departments and the crime lab, and strengthening requirements that the kits be processed quickly.
A state law, passed in 2015 after the backlog of unsubmitted kits became public, requires police departments to submit sexual assault evidence to the lab within 10 days of collecting it, and the lab has 50 days to test it.
Connecticut completed the processing of the 1,188 previously unsubmitted kits in 2018. A third-party lab contracted by the state tested 1,012 of those kits, with 172 remaining untested because they were anonymous.
DNA collected from 116 kits matched a profile in the FBI Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), which includes DNA profiles of people convicted of or arrested on suspicion of certain crimes.
The effort in Connecticut to improve the handling of evidence of sexual assault is part of a nationwide initiative to clear backlogs of sexual assault kits, with many states using federal Sexual Assault Kit Initiative grants to fund testing.
Connecticut has received three of those grants, totaling $5.9 million, Sasinouski said.
By the end of last year, 111,390 untested kits nationwide had been inventoried as part of the federal initiative, according to U.S. Department of Justice data, but likely many more untested kits remain. The department estimated in 2014 there were as many as 400,000 untested kits.
Across the country, 61,994 kits have been tested using the grants, resulting in 9,892 matches to DNA profiles in CODIS. Of those hits, 1,363 identified serial sex offenders, and 5,001 identified serial violent offenders.
Connecticut lawmakers included a $1.35 million line item for sexual assault forensic evidence exams in the budget for both the 2019 and 2020 fiscal years.