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Sexual Assault Resolution Leaves Out Rape Kits, But NPD Says They’ll All Be Tested

The evidence collection envelopes that compose a sexual assault examination kit are spread across a table.

On Monday, Nome City Council passed a resolution in support of justice for Alaska Native victims of sexual assault and other violent crimes. The resolution was first taken up by the council on May 14th, one week after a group of citizens presented concerns on the topic.

Missing from the final resolution was any mention of the examination kits that are often completed when a person reports being sexually assaulted. Those exams are conducted locally to collect evidence in what is commonly referred to as rape kit. The kits are then processed by the Alaska Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory in Anchorage.

The first draft of the Nome City Council resolution included language about the backlog of kits at the state lab, due to lack of funding. Citing concerns that it could be construed as an excuse for lack of action on a local level, the line was removed from the final resolution.

Until recently, the Nome Police Department (NPD) was in possession of a large number of unprocessed kits.

According to Chief of Police John Papasodora, NPD has been in communication with the state lab. He says, “We’re at the top of the queue to get our kits in.”

As of June 25th, 134 untested kits were sent to Anchorage, says Papasodora.

But, he explains, for all the attention they receive, the sexual assault examination kits are not useful in every case. The kits can sometimes prove sexual contact has taken place, and genetic evidence can be used to identify individuals. But when the question is not whether a sexual encounter took place, but whether it was consensual, the kits are less helpful. The examinations can document injuries and signs of force, but rape kits can’t prove consent — or the lack of it — in a sexual encounter.

Still, Papasodora said there is value in testing every kit. Processing untested kits can help solve cold cases and connect individuals to multiple crimes. Last month the state legislature set aside $2.75 million in the capital budget to test every kit collected in Alaska, which includes the large backlog of kits from communities across the state — including Nome.

“There’s a lot of kits throughout the state that have been waiting for a really, really long time,” says Papasodora.

He said the state lab will continue to prioritize the kits most likely to provide evidence useful for prosecution—but every kit will be tested eventually.

The resolution passed by Nome City Council on Monday, supporting Alaska Native crime victims, called for additional training for NPD officers. Papasodora says there are many kinds of trainings that dovetail with the City’s goals, but it will all depend on availability and scheduling.

A town hall meeting to further discuss sexual assault and violence in the community is expected to be scheduled in coming weeks.

Image at top: A sexual assault examination kit. Photo: Zoe Grueskin, KNOM.