Crime, Law and Justice

Minn. receives $2 million federal grant to address untested sexual assault kits

Rep. Marion O'Neill looks through a sexual assault evidence collection kit
Rep. Marion O'Neill looks through a sexual assault evidence collection kit during the Feb. 27, 2018, meeting of the House Public Safety and Security Policy and Finance Committee.
Paul Battaglia | Minnesota House of Representatives 2018

Through a federal grant, state and local agencies are hoping to tackle an older inventory of untested sexual assault kits.

The U.S. Department of Justice awarded a $2 million grant to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s Office of Justice Programs for the second consecutive year on Friday. More than $1.3 million of the grant will go to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to test kits and help local organizations with investigations.

The remaining portion of the grant will be split between the Minnesota Coalition of Sexual Assault, victim services provider Alexandra House and the Anoka County Sheriff’s Office.

“The Office of Justice Programs is proud to work with our project partners to find ways to streamline kit submissions, improve sexual assault investigations and provide support to victims across Minnesota,” said Kate Weeks, executive director of the OJP.

Following state legislation requiring law enforcement agencies to count and explain untested kits, the BCA discovered nearly 3,500 rape kits that weren’t submitted to forensic laboratories statewide in late 2015. Since the first grant in 2018, more than 250 untested kits were submitted to the BCA’s forensics team.

“This is an opportunity to gain valuable information from kits that for years have gone untested,” said Drew Evans, the BCA’s superintendent. “Testing these kits will, in some cases, result in new information that can inform investigations and may bridge gaps in justice.”

The Sexual Assault Kit Initiative grant was established by the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance to address “the growing number of unsubmitted SAKs in law enforcement custody.” The federal bureau awarded more than $376 million to state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies around the country.

In addition to testing, grant funds go to victim advocacy services and other sexual assault programs statewide, including a 24-hour notification line for victims and survivors.

“We are hopeful that this important work will lead to more uniformity statewide in protocols and procedures related to the handling and testing of sexual assault kits in Minnesota,” said Alexandra House executive director Connie Moore.