Federal Grant Helps MT Continue Work of Testing Sexual Assault Kits
Big Sky News Connection
HELENA, Mont. - Montana is getting more federal help to test its backlog of sexual assault kits.
The U.S. Justice Department's Sexual Assault Kit Initiative is distributing $34 million to 20 jurisdictions around the country.
Montana Attorney General Tim Fox says the $1 million his state is receiving will help test kits in its backlog through 2020.
The state's Justice Department has sent about 225 of more than 1,100 kits to a contracted lab for testing.
Fox says this process is crucial for helping victims get the justice they deserve.
"Our primary goal is to make sure that the justice system is working, that we have a trauma-informed, victim-centered way of approaching sexual assault crimes, and that we do justice in the long run and instill confidence in our justice system in Montana," he states.
In 2015, Fox created the Sexual Assault Evidence Task Force to look at how to move forward with untested kits.
Last year, the state received $2 million from the federal Bureau of Justice Assistance to start testing its backlog of kits.
Fox soon hopes to add a victim advocate and cold case investigator to the state Justice Department's Division of Criminal Investigation.
And he says a computerized tracking system for kits should go up at the end of this year or beginning of next year.
"That'll become important not only for tracking the kits that we currently have backlogged but in the future it will help law enforcement to have these kits in a system that's organized and run by the Montana Department of Justice," he states.
There are about 175,000 untested rape kits across the country, according to End The Backlog, a program of the Joyful Heart Foundation.