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A welcome advance in Alaska's public safety measures

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Last week Gov. Mike Dunleavy and the Departments of Public Safety, Corrections and Law announced sweeping changes which will undoubtedly result in increased offender accountability and community safety.

First, the Department of Corrections will immediately begin collecting DNA from qualifying arrestees, primarily those charged with violent crimes. As well, state and local law enforcement will track down “owed DNA” from offenders out of custody — probationers and parolees — to collect their DNA, and supply it to the national Combined DNA Index System (CODIS). While this has been allowable under state law for the last 25 years, it was never successfully implemented. Advocates have brought it to the attention of multiple state administrations but were always met with frustration and excuses. We appreciate the efforts of Gov. Dunleavy’s administration and law enforcement to make the necessary changes to finally get this executed.

Second, the governor announced all sexual assault evidence kits throughout the state will be processed within 90 days, as opposed to the current state statute requiring processing within one year. We applaud this measure for providing necessary information and assurances to those survivors awaiting the results of DNA evidence. As well, this measure will ensure suspects’ DNA is entered into CODIS much faster in cases of sexual assault crimes.

Another significant announcement is the state is preparing to launch a trauma-informed online portal available for sexual assault survivors who engage in forensic evidence collection to track the evidence kit through every step of the process, at times they wish, without having to call and request law enforcement do so on their behalf. This will allow for survivors to engage as they wish, with convenience, privacy and without delay.

These multi-pronged approaches mean significantly more violent offenders’ DNA will be in CODIS and rapidly available to criminal investigators nationwide. Often violent offenders engage in a pattern of criminal activity, including rape, homicide, burglary and assaults, before they are apprehended and successfully prosecuted. CODIS and DNA evidence is a highly valuable tool to solving crimes, and Alaska is going to start harnessing it.

Navigating the criminal justice system as a crime victim is so challenging. It requires tenacity, energy, connections, and endless reserves of strength. Unfortunately, as victims we are often experiencing PTSD, flashbacks, and high anxiety which makes these tasks nearly impossible on our own.

We are currently working with local agencies to create more victim-focused services that will provide ongoing support to those who are seeking healing. We can each do our part to make Alaska a safer place.

As the executive director of Standing Together Against Rape and the board chair of Victims for Justice, we applaud the efforts of the governor as well as those of State House Rep. Geran Tarr who was present for these announcements and has single handedly spearheaded several statewide measures supporting victims, reducing backlogs of sexual assault kits, and making state services more trauma-informed over several legislative sessions.

We are appreciative Gov. Dunleavy and his administration are committed to making sexual assault crimes a top priority and changing the course of Alaska’s trajectory. Do we wish they’d started this 20 years ago? Of course. Do we think this will fix all our problems? No. What we do believe is this will bring hope, peace, and a trauma-informed resource to victims of sexual assault. And for that, we are very grateful.

Keeley Olson is executive director of Standing Together Against Rape (STAR). Blaze Bell is board chairwoman of Victims for Justice.

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