Frequently Asked Questions
Q: WHAT IS A SAFE KIT
A sexual assault kit is also called a SAK, SAFE (sexual assault forensic examination) kit or rape kit. The kit is collected at a hospital or local rape crisis center as part of a medical forensic examination after a sexual assault. This might include swabs of any area where there was contact between the victim and the perpetrator, blood and hair samples.
Q: WHO DOES THE EXAM?
A: Ideally, a sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE nurse) conducts the SAFE exam, but it can be done by any doctor or nurse. Hospitals that provide emergency services in Kentucky are required by state law to conduct these exams, regardless of whether a SANE nurse is on staff or on call. State law also requires the provider to contact the local rape crisis center to provide advocacy services to the survivor.
Q: WHY IS THE KIT COLLECTED?
A: The kit is intended to help in the collection and preservation of potential evidence in a sexual assault case. Biological evidence (such as blood, saliva, and/or semen) can be tested to identify DNA from the perpetrator. Police and prosecutors may use this evidence to help them investigate and prosecute a case, and potentially solve other crimes.
Q: WHAT IS DNA AND WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT?
A: It stands for deoxyribonucleic acid. It exists in human cells, like in blood, bone, teeth, and hair, and is like a blueprint for how each human should be built. DNA is similar to fingerprints. Each person has unique fingerprints and each person, except for identical twins, has unique DNA unlike anyone else. It can be used to identify a perpetrator, confirm a perpetrator’s identity or exonerate a suspect accused of a crime.
Q: WHAT HAPPENS AFTER A KIT IS COLLECTED?
A: If a survivor decides to make a police report about the sexual assault, the health care provider will turn over the completed kit to law enforcement. State law enacted in 2016 requires law enforcement to submit ALL kits to the Kentucky State Police Forensic Laboratory for analysis. In the past, kits were not always submitted for a variety of reasons. Many of those previously untested kits are now being submitted for testing.
Trained scientists analyze the evidence in the kit for DNA. It is possible that they won’t find any DNA.
Q: WHAT HAPPENS IF DNA IS FOUND?
A: Analysts will create a DNA profile that can be used to confirm the presence of a known suspect. In addition, the DNA profile is entered into a national DNA database called CODIS to identify a suspect if the identity is unknown and/or connect an offender to multiple crime scenes.
Q: HOW DOES CODIS WORK?
A: CODIS stores DNA profiles. When a new DNA profile is created following a crime, it is entered into CODIS. If there is a match between the new DNA profile and an existing DNA profile in CODIS, it comes back as a “hit.” The new DNA profile will also be stored in CODIS for future searches.
Q: IF THE PERPETRATOR IS ALREADY KNOWN, WHY IS THE DNA IMPORTANT?
A: It can be used to connect a perpetrator to other crimes he or she has committed. It also may aid in prosecution.
Q: WHY WERE SOME KITS NOT TESTED?
A: An investigation by the state Auditor in 2015 found several reasons, including a lack of understanding by some in law enforcement as to how CODIS works and an emphasis on collecting evidence solely for prosecution purposes rather than investigatory purposes. Prioritizing lab resources also was cited as a reason.
Q: WHAT IS HAPPENING NOW?
A: The KSP Forensic Laboratory secured a $1.9 million grant from the Manhattan District Attorney (known as the DANY grant) to analyze evidence from more than 3,000 untested SAFE kits in the Commonwealth. Kentucky has contracted with private vendors to analyze DNA from these kits.
As part of this process, a multidisciplinary team of law enforcement, prosecutors, lab officials, survivors and advocates reviewed survivor notification protocol best practices from other cities and established protocols for Kentucky. Law enforcement will be notified by the KSP lab when a kit from their jurisdiction has been analyzed and will be provided instructions for contacting survivors.
Q: WHAT DOES THE KENTUCKY SURVIVOR NOTIFICATION PROTOCOL REQUIRE?
A: It requires law enforcement to notify ALL DANY grant survivors of the results of the analysis, regardless of the results. This includes kits in which no DNA profiles are obtained.
Protocol also requires law enforcement to collaborate with community advocates to determine when and how to notify survivors and to conduct this notification with a community advocate when appropriate.
Q: IF NO PROSECUTION IS TO OCCUR, WHY NOTIFY THOSE SURVIVORS?
A: Survivors have the right to decide whether they want this information, rather than having others make that decision for them.
Q: WHAT IF SURVIVORS ARE NOT SURE THEY WANT TO BE NOTIFIED?
A: If survivors need time to decide, investigators and advocates should give them space to process the situation and make a decision.
Survivors can change their minds at any time and end contact and involvement.
Survivors who are not comfortable talking to investigators and advocates directly may provide the name and contact information of a trusted friend or family member who can communicate on their behalf.
Q: WHO WILL NOTIFY SURVIVORS?
A team of professionals will be the initial contacts. This team consists of local law enforcement and victim advocates. It may be expanded to include representatives from the local prosecutor’s office and children’s advocates, if the survivor was a juvenile when the assault occurred.
Q: WHERE AND HOW WILL COMMUNICATION REGARDING KIT RESULTS TAKE PLACE?
A: Initial contact should happen via phone in order to set up an in-person meeting, if the survivors so choose.
The in-person meeting may be at the local sexual assault crisis center, the police station, or a safe place of the survivor’s choice.
Survivors will be contacted over the phone and in person, so long as they are okay with either or both.
Q: HOW OFTEN WILL CONTACT OCCUR?
A: Survivors may discuss with the investigator and advocate how often they’d like to be contacted, by whom, and how. Depending on the results, contact may be ongoing for an extended period of time. For example, a case may advance to criminal prosecution.
All information available regarding the testing of a kit may be provided at initial contact, at an in-person meeting, or whenever the survivor is ready to be informed.
Survivors should receive updates if any additional information is discovered, if they so choose.
Q: WHAT SHOULD SURVIVORS EXPECT FROM KIT RESULTS?
A: Kit testing may produce a variety of results that lead to a range of outcomes. It is possible that little to no DNA evidence is found.
Kit results may provide:
No new information
DNA profiles to a non-consensual partner
“Hits” or matches to DNA from a criminal offender and/or other unsolved crimes
More details on the investigative process, including whether a suspect could be prosecuted
The whereabouts of a suspect in your case – i.e. whether the person is currently incarcerated
Q: WHAT WILL HAPPEN IF A CASE IS PROSECUTED?
A: The criminal justice process can be difficult to navigate. See the steps and flowchart below. The Fayette Commonwealth’s Attorney also has developed a guidebook for victims to understanding their rights and the legal system in Kentucky.
An advocate will be available to help guide survivor's along this process. These steps will be communicated more clearly as they relate to specific cases.
Note: Each case is unique and not all cases will advance to prosecution.
Legal Steps Toward Prosecution in Kentucky
1. Arraignment: Defendant is officially notified of the charges against him/her and, unless the defendant plead guilty, a preliminary hearing is set.
2. Preliminary hearing: Determines whether there is sufficient evidence to charge the defendant. If the court finds that sufficient evidence exists, the case proceeds to circuit court. The first step in circuit court is the Grand Jury.
3. Grand Jury: The prosecutor presents all evidence to the Grand Jury. The Grand Jury is a group of twelve citizens chosen at random who decide whether to either dismiss or indict the charges against the defendant. If the crime is indicted, meaning formally charged, the case moves on.
4. Circuit Court Arraignment: Defendant is notified of the indicted charges. Unless the defendant pleads guilty, the case proceeds and the court sets a “Status Hearing” date and a “Pre-trial Conference” date.
5. Pre-Trial Conference: The prosecutor and the defendant’s attorney discuss evidence and possible plea bargains (if any).
6. Status Hearing: Status hearings continue throughout the disposition of a criminal case. These hearings keep the judge, prosecutor, defendant and defense attorney informed of the status of the case. Motions by either party may be filed during this time. The defendant may plead guilty or set a date for trial.
7. Pleas: At any point in the process, the defendant may plea to the original charge or to an amended charge. The prosecutor shall consult with you as the victim before any plea agreement.
8. Trial: If the defendant does not plea, the case will go to trial. You may or may not be called as a witness in the trial. A victim advocate may be available to support you during the trial.
8. Sentencing: Once the defendant has pled guilty or is convicted by a jury, he/she goes before the court for a sentencing hearing. The victim has the opportunity to write a victim impact statement to read in open court and/or submit for the court to read prior to sentencing.
9. Appeals: Typically, a convicted defendant will file an appeal. The grounds for an appeal are not always legitimate and a court will deny the request. However, it is always good to be prepared for the potential of a successful appeal. If the defendant’s conviction is overturned in the appeals process, the case may have to be prosecuted again. You will be contacted by victim advocates with the Office of the Attorney General if your case is appealed.