- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 23, 2020

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - Three Alaska nonprofit organizations have donated more than $38,000 to assist a police department with testing its backlog of sexual assault kits.

The organizations acted on reports that the Nome Police Department had a large number of sexual assault evidence kits awaiting processing, KTUU-TV reported Monday.

Nonprofit organizations Kawerak, Norton Sound Health Corp. and the Norton Sound Economic Development Corp. coordinated their efforts to donate the funds needed to expedite testing of the kits.

Kawerak and Norton Sound Health are operated by Alaska Native tribal entities. Norton Sound Economic Development is a private corporation representing 15 member communities in the Bering Strait.

Kawerak President Melanie Bahnke said the organization became aware two years ago that many of Nome’s sexual assault kits had not been sent to the state crime laboratory.

The leadership of the police department has changed since then, but several kits still have not been processed. Bahnke said some kits have taken 12 months to be tested.

“If you were raped and you go through that trauma and you go seek the medical help and report to law enforcement, your perpetrator shouldn’t be walking freely for over a year before the rape kit is even processed,” Bahnke said.

Kawerak, which operates a public safety officer program in more than a dozen villages, met with Nome city and police officials earlier this year. They decided to send Nome’s backlogged kits to a private lab that could process them much quicker than the state.

The Nome Police Department chose Bode Technology in Virginia, in part because the state already uses the company for testing in some expedited cases, Bahnke said.

“If you just go to any private lab and get these kits processed, there’s always the potential that in court, the legitimacy of the tests could be called into question,” Bahnke said. “So it was very important for us, if we were going to pursue expediting these sexual assault kits being processed, that they would stand up in court.”

Kawerak plans to continue advocating for funding to increase the capacity of the state crime lab, Bahnke said.

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