TOPEKA — The Kansas Bureau of Investigation on Thursday announced their findings and recommendations resulting from a five-year collaborative effort to identify, inventory and test previously unsubmitted sexual assault kits in Kansas.
The achievements of the Kansas Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI) were detailed, and a new statewide public awareness campaign to confront social biases related to sexual assault was also launched.
Ottawa Police Department officials said the department participated in the initiative from the start. They added that local law enforcement officials — including OPD Lt. AJ Schmidt, former Police Chief Dennis Butler and Franklin County Sheriff Jeff Richards — also serve on the advisory board and working group to develop statewide procedures, ensuring all sexual assault kits are processed for testing.
In 2014, the KBI formed the Kansas SAKI project. In 2017, Kansas became the first state in the country to complete the statewide inventory with 100% voluntary law enforcement participation. As a result, 2,200 previously unsubmitted sexual assault kits were identified. Local law enforcement agencies submitted the majority of those kits to a forensic laboratory for analysis.
Testing was completed on nearly 2,000 kits, with the 200 remaining kits to be completed by the end of October.
“Because of our leadership role in public safety, it was important for us to initiate this project and collaborate with key stakeholders to implement a statewide strategy that we believe will help solve crimes and prevent additional victimization of our citizens,” KBI director Kirk Thompson said. “Having substantially completed testing on so many kits using in-state laboratories was a significant undertaking, and a noteworthy accomplishment. As a result, we have identified serial sexual offenders and solved cases.”
To date, forensic testing enabled 373 biological profiles from evidence to be entered into the Combined DNA Index System and resulted in 234 CODIS hits, each of which may be considered a new investigative lead in a criminal case. As a result of the SAKI project, two cases were successfully prosecuted, and another resulted in an acquittal. Several criminal cases are still pending review by local law enforcement and prosecutors.
“Since the KBI proactively initiated these efforts more than five years ago, a great amount of work has been done to test the backlog of kits and to address the underlying issues that led to the backlog,” Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said. “I am grateful to the remarkable group of experts who came together to make this happen, and I’m confident that we will continue to experience SAKI’s positive impact on victims and investigations of sexual assault in Kansas moving forward.”
Initiative-related kit evaluation also provided valuable information about the link between sexual assault and other violent crimes — something the KBI has extensively researched. Authorities found that 93% of suspects named in SAKI cases had criminal histories that included other violent offenses. Collectively, those same individuals committed more than 7,000 additional crimes. The multidisciplinary working group felt strongly that these staggering numbers demanded more proactive attention and action.
Beyond generating new investigative leads in criminal cases, they also kindled efforts to reform law enforcement practices, increase laboratory resources, increase victims’ access to services and support, and improve the outcome of criminal cases. Through the SAKI project, more than 1,300 Kansas professionals were trained on trauma-informed sexual assault investigation and the importance of a multidisciplinary response to sexual assault.
“Responses to sexual assault have historically been fragmented. Victims often have to navigate difficult systems with limited support,” said Joyce Grover, executive director of the Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence. “This project has addressed work that was long overdue in Kansas. By coordinating our efforts and recognizing the importance of advocacy and a trauma-informed response, I am hopeful we have made and will continue to make big changes in Kansas.”
The KBI used SAKI project funding to commission the development of a unique statewide public awareness campaign focused on educating Kansans about the prevalence and realities of sexual assault. The campaign also seeks to overcome the normalization of sexual violence and other common biases surrounding sexual assault.
“Through SAKI, we became keenly aware of how infrequently sexual perpetrators are held accountable for the crimes they commit and how often they go on to commit other acts of violence. This demanded our immediate attention,” said Katie Whisman, KBI executive officer and Kansas SAKI project director. “We quickly realized that increasing offender accountability also required involvement of the public, and the idea for a statewide public awareness campaign was born.”