BYU professor receives grants to help aid investigations of Utah sexual assault cases

BYU nursing professor Julie Valentine is also a sexual assault nurse examiner. Valentine said the tracking system works as a way to enhance interagency collaboration between different parts of the legal system. (BYU Nursing Department)

BYU nursing professor Julie Valentine received two new grants on Sep. 23 to help further investigation on sexual assault cases in Utah.

The grants provide funds for the investigation and prosecution of rape cases with possible evidence obtained in previously unsubmitted sexual assault kits. These kits consist of a set of items used by medical personnel for gathering and preserving physical evidence following an allegation of sexual assault.

In addition, the grants fund the development of a tracking system that records the location and status of sexual assault kits.

“The tracking system will enhance interagency collaboration between law enforcement, prosecution, victim advocates, crime laboratory, and forensic nurses,” Valentine said. “Additionally, the tracking system will allow victims to track their evidence and information about the status of their case.”

Out of approximately 1,000 collected sexual assault kits in Salt Lake County from 2010-2012, only 20 percent were submitted by law enforcement to the crime laboratory, according to a study Valentine conducted.

“This means that the vast majority of sexual assault kits have not been submitted for DNA analysis,” Valentine said. “And that is a huge problem because then many people not are prosecuted for rape charges, and people begin to lose hope in law enforcement.”

Valentine is optimistic that through further research and support, changes can be made in the existing system.

“We are working to adopt recommended policies by the National Institute of Justice, which is a 100 percent submission of collected sexual assault kits,” Valentine said. “By increasing community awareness of this problem, we hope that Utah will rise up to change these statistics. We are hopeful that Utah will become a leading state in our country on reforming our approach to sexual assault cases.”

A 2007 study by Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice found that 1 out of 8 Utah women will be raped in their lifetimes and that 1 out of 3 women will be be sexually assaulted.

“Utah has a struggle with rape in general,” said Shima Baradaran, an associate law professor at the University of Utah. “Violent crime in Utah is quite low, but rape is quite high.”

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