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Criminal Justice Update

Conference, symposium shine spotlight on work of victim advocates

During the 2018 Two Days in May Conference on Victim Assistance May 14-15 at the Greater Columbus Convention Center, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and Special Investigations Division Chief Richard A. Bell of the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office were among the featured speakers who recognized the important work of advocates and of all of those involved in delivering justice in rape cases going back decades.

With Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s Sexual Assault Kit (SAK) Testing Initiative completing DNA testing on almost 14,000 rape kits as of January, suspects are being identified, criminal cases are being developed, and survivors are being helped by advocates.

“Each of these rape kits represents one of our fellow citizens who has been violated,” DeWine said. “Fortunately, advocates throughout Ohio are doing a tremendous job of supporting these victims of crime and their families.”

From 2012 to 2016, forensic scientists with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) completed DNA testing on 13,931 rape kits that had been lingering in police evidence lockers.
A total of 294 law enforcement agencies in 75 counties submitted kits as part of the initiative. The Cleveland Division of Police submitted the most kits, 4,418. With the statute of limitations bearing down on many of the resulting cases, Bell had to get organized quickly.

“We weren’t going to let this time run out on our watch,” he said.

Bell explained the structure of the Cuyahoga County Sexual Assault Kit Task Force to a group gathered for the Sexual Assault Investigation Symposium, an event for law enforcement officials, prosecutors, and advocates held in conjunction with Two Days in May.

Identifying immediate resource needs is important, Bell said. His office had to find a home for the task force; hire victim advocates, a project manager, and evidence preparation technicians; create a victim-notification protocol; set up victim meeting rooms; work with the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center on a referral protocol; reassign investigators and prosecutors to work for the task force; assign an intake officer and set up a process; move all files to an electronic case management system; scan all detective files; and reach an agreement with the Attorney General’s Office for the use of investigators.

Bell stressed the importance of prioritizing and then pursuing the cases.

“Those rape kits on your shelves that you think might have been tested, or you’re unsure if they’ve been tested, need to be tested — not just for this case, but for other cases.”

So far, Bell said, 674 defendants have been indicted in connection with DNA testing conducted as part of the SAK Testing Initiative and follow-up investigation conducted by the task force.