Sexual Assault is a heinous crime that affects approximately 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men in their lifetimes. Since 1998, 1 in 5 sexual assault cases reported in Alabama have occurred in Jefferson County. Our office seeks to reduce that number through holding perpetrators of sexual assault accountable. The Jefferson County District Attorney's Office has received two federal grant awards to improve the criminal justice system's response to Sexual Assault in Jefferson County. Through these grants we have increased the support available for victims and their loved ones, and will work to streamline the process of prosecuting Sexual Assault.
Sexual Assault Kit Initiative:
In 2016, the Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) awarded our office with a Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI) grant of $1.5 million dollars for a three-year project. The purpose of this grant is to provide resources and personnel dedicated to examining the current criminal justice response to sexual assault in Jefferson County. This grant will allow us to inventory the existing Sexual Assault Kits in the county, build a database to store kit information, and provide a more survivor-centered and trauma-informed response to sexual assault.
The goals of the Jefferson County DA's Office SAKI include the following:
- A thorough inventory of all Sexual Assault Kits in the county
- The development of a database that will provide easily accessible information to advocates, investigators, and prosecutors on the Sexual Assault Kits
- Hiring three Court Advocates to help surviviors of sexual assault navigate the criminal justice system
- Building a Multidisciplinary Team (MDT) for sexual assault that will include advocates, police, prosecutors, and community partners invested in addressing the needs of survivors
- Hiring a prosecutor specifically to handle sexual assault cases
- Setting up a vertical court for sexual assault cases
Jefferson County's SAKI project is meant to take an in-depth and comprehensive look at sexual assault across the county. With 27 jurisdictions and two DA's offices, additional resources are needed to develop a common language and protocol for addressing sexual assaulty county-wide. The inventory should give us a clear picture of the status of the kits in our county. The Multidisciplinary Team will be responsible for developing a protocol for testing, investigating, and prosecuting any cases that can move forward. Court advocates will work directly with survivors to help them navigate the system and to ensure their wishes are met throughout the process. Our efforts will be survivor-centered and trauma-informed, meaning that the survivor is the center of the process and all efforts will be made to reduce the traumatization that can occur throughout the criminal justice system.
Jefferson County's SAKI grant was awarded to specifically address those SAKs in the county that were not previously submitted to the lab for testing. With the help of local law enforcement, SAKI staff completed a comprehensive inventory of SAKs in Jefferson County, which yielded a total of 4,999 kits with 3,876 of those SAKs identified as unsubmitted. SAKI staff are now in the process of researching the case status for each kit and creating a database to collect information on these inventoried and future sexual assault kits.
SAKI's national goals are to understand why kits have not been tested in the past, to provide education on the importance of testing kits, and to find solutions to the unique roadblocks that present themselves in each jurisdiction. Jefferson County is fortunate to have received the SAKI grant so that we can begin to look at the national problem of unsubmitted kits from a local and multidisciplinary perspective.
Now that the inventory is complete, the second phase of the project will continue to develop a Multidisciplinary Team (MDT). This MDT will be comprised of Sexual Assault Survivors, Law Enforcement, Advocates, District Attorney's Office staff, and Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences representatives. Together these individuals will work to address individual cases, policies, procedures, as well as training needs within the Jefferson County.
Sexual Assault Justice Initiative:
Also in 2016, the Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women awarded Jefferson County Commission with a Sexual Assault Justice Initiative (SAJI) grant to be implemented through the Jefferson County District Attorney's Office. SAJI is a two-year $400,000 award to support enhanced community response to sexual violence. This grant will help Jefferson County develop and implement measures that reflect promising practices for prosecuting sexual assault. Although the SAJI grant has an emphasis on prosecution, this grant will also allow us to work collaboratively with local law enforcement and community partners to improve our community's response to sexual assault.
The goals of the Jefferson County DA's Office SAJI include the following:
- Create a specialized unit within the District Attorney's Office to coordinate investigation and prosecution of sexual assault crimes within the jurisdiction and respond to victims' needs;
- Improve training for prosecutors and law enforcement across the region on sexual assault and trauma;
- Enhance protocols for the county-wide criminal justice system responding to cases of sexual assault;
- Remove barriers to reporting for immigrant victims of sexual violence; and
- Strengthen the existing Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) within the jurisdiction.
Through SAJI we hope to initiate a culture change towards a more victim-centered approach alongside an improved response to sexual assault cases by law enforcement and prosecutors.
To speak with an advocate about a sexual assault case, please contact 205-325-1423 or e-mail DA_SAKI_group@jccal.org.