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Public safety leaders introduce new group tasked with helping sexual assault victims

TAYLORSVILLE – A group dedicated to helping victims of sexual assault rolled out some new resources.

In an effort to process more sexual assault kits, victims can now work directly with an advocate.

The Utah Department of Public Safety and the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice announced the creation of a new group called the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative, or SAKI. They’re a team dedicated to seeking justice for rape victims.

“Studies in Utah indicate that one in eight women and one in 50 men will experience rape in their lifetimes,” said Ned Searle, director for the Office of Domestic and Sexual Violence.

Their first priority is eliminating the backlog of untested rape kits here in Utah. In 2014, law enforcement from across the state identified 2,690 sexual assault kits that had not been tested. Of those, 1,589 came from Salt Lake County.

“It was a system-wide breakdown. We just really didn't have the resources, and, honestly, it's an issue that the nation is dealing with,” said Lauren DeVries, a SAKI Victims Advocate.

The group is tackling the issue head-on thanks to a $1.9 million federal grant. Victims can now work directly with an advocate by calling a new information hotline at 1-801-893-1145. The advocate can help them find out the status of their sexual assault kit.

“We want to create some transparency for victims in order to be able to get that information as we test and get results back on these kits," DeVries said.

SAKI has also created a therapeutic fund to help with survivors' needs, and they’re working on a sexual assault tracking system.

“That will allow the victims to be able to track their kit from collection all the way to prosecution,” said Jay Henry, a Crime Lab director.

It’s information that is proving useful for prosecutors.

Sim Gill, the Salt Lake County District Attorney, says as a result of rape kits that have been tested, about 71 came back that they’ve investigated and they’ve filed 9 cases.

“It shows you that there is real justice that is available if this work gets done,” Gill said.