Advocates for rape survivors applaud grant

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring discusses a grant that will go toward eliminating the state's backlog of untested rape kits during a news conference on Thursday. Capital News Service photo

RICHMOND – Organizations that help rape survivors see benefits from Virginia receiving a $2 million federal grant to improve the commonwealth’s handling of sexual assaults.

They say the money will help the state train sexual assault investigators, test rape evidence kits and provide services to rape survivors.

“At YWCA Richmond, we acknowledge that all survivors respond differently to trauma and to news involving sexual assault. News of this continued testing may provide comfort to survivors and their families that justice will be served to the perpetrator of the assault,” Rachel Solomon, the Y’s development and relations coordinator, said Thursday.

“Many service providers, survivors and community members may also find comfort that the collection of evidence from physical evidence recovery kits could lead to the prevention of future sexual assaults by known perpetrators.”

The Virginia Department of Forensic Science and Attorney General Mark R. Herring announced Wednesday that Virginia will receive the funding from the Federal Sexual Assault Kit Initiative.

The grant is part of an effort that started in 2015 when Virginia received $1.4 million to conduct DNA testing on a backlog of more than 2,000 untested Physical Evidence Recovery Kits. PERKs contain evidence collected from the survivors of sexual assaults.

“This new investment is going to let us take those efforts to the next level, completely eliminating Virginia’s backlog of untested kits once and for all and making needed upgrades throughout our response to sexual violence,” Herring said.

“Survivors are going to be met with a more informed and compassionate response, cases against perpetrators will be stronger, and every survivor will know that their commonwealth stands with them as they seek justice and healing from these brutal crimes.”

The funding will enable Virginia to:

  •   Finish processing untested PERKs.
  •   Establish a statewide tracking system that will show each step of the PERKs from collection to the test results. Victims and all those involved in the handling of the kit will be granted access to the status of the kit.
  •   Hire a dedicated specialist to provide support for sexual assault survivors through the investigation. The Department of Forensic Science also would hire a project manager and a research assistant to oversee and streamline the processing of PERKs.
  •   Provide specialized training for Virginia law enforcement.

The training will help officers understand how the experience impacts a victim’s memory to aid in the investigation. Officers also will receive training about preventing gender bias to make sure all survivors are treated with respect.

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