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Advocates plan victim-centered response as Indianapolis aims to test thousands of sexual assault kits

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — A $1.4 million grant will change the way Indianapolis handles sexual assault kits and advocates say they hope to see victims and the community benefit from a new approach.

At Franciscan Health’s Center of Hope, Caroline Fisher and her team of sexual assault nurse examiners spend hours with patients, providing care and collecting more than 100 sexual assault kits every year. Fisher started the center more than 20 years ago.

“How we take care of patients is vastly different now,” Fisher said.

Once Fisher collects a kit, she gives it to law enforcement. In Marion County, most of those kits never get tested. A CBS4 Problem Solvers analysis of crime lab data showed that only between 25% and 35% of kits collected in the county have been tested over the past decade.

Those numbers are likely to increase significantly, according to the grant application submitted by the city to the Department of Justice, which administers the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative, or SAKI, grants to communities across the country. CBS4 Problem Solvers obtained the application through a public records request.

Fisher submitted a “letter of commitment” as part of the application, as did the Marion County Forensic Services Agency, where kits are tested, IMPD and the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office.

“We’ve talked more about it in the last four or five years because of all the work that’s been done throughout the country,” Fisher said.

Communities are increasingly adopting new policies when it comes to untested sexual assault kits. In same cases, efforts to test more kits for DNA have resulted in arrests of serial rapists and closure for cases that are decades old.

In a detailed 14-page proposal, the city said it estimated that IMPD’s property room could contain more than 5,000 untested kits and  “it is anticipated that 3,000 kits could be potentially tested during the project period.” The grant will pay for a new employee who will undertake a full audit of all kits in order to determine how many are eligible for testing.

“I hope that our communities are safer as a result of this,” Fisher said.

The proposal indicates that the Center for Hope, as well as other advocacy organizations, will be included in discussion about how to inform victims that their kit could be tested and how to change policies moving forward so that large numbers of untested kits do not sit on property room shelves.

A representative from the Indiana Coalition to End Sexual Assault and Human Trafficking, or ICESAHT, sits with Fisher on Marion County’s Sexual Assault Response Team, which meets every other month with law enforcement and prosecutors.

“My initial reaction is that this is a great plan,” ICESAHT Chief Operations Officer Kristen Pulice said.

Pulice and Fisher said they both want to be involved in the city’s three-year grant effort and know it won’t be easy, especially for survivors.

“They change their phone numbers, they move, so there are going to be situations where we’re going to have to make a decision, is it the right thing to do to go ahead and open the (kit) or do we need (their) permission to open the (kit)?” Fisher said.

“This is one part of a really big puzzle that we still have to do. We still have to focus on prevention, we still have to focus on changing culture norms ,” Pulice said.

For more information about the Center of Hope, click the link here.

For more information about ICESAHT and a county-by-county list of resources for survivors of sexual assault, click the link here.

To read the city’s full proposal to the National Sexual Assault Kit Initiative, click the link below.

City of Indianapolis SAKI grant proposal

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