Some 160 rape kits from Gainesville and Hall County bearing evidence from alleged sexual assaults may soon be sent for testing to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation from local law enforcement following a change in GBI policy.
The GBI tests samples submitted to its lab and enters information into a DNA database. The state agency notified law enforcement agencies in March about kits not submitted to the lab.
“The GBI Crime Lab accepts and will perform DNA analysis on sexual assault evidence collection kits, regardless of whether or not a suspect has been identified in the investigation,” according to the operations bulletin. “By submitting the kits to the laboratory as investigations are initiated, the laboratory can enter DNA profile information obtained from the kit into (the Combined DNA Index System).”
The bulletin goes on to say that any agency with kits should contact the bureau for further guidance.
Gainesville Police Sgt. Kevin Holbrook about 100 kits will be sent from his department.
“It’s done in the same manner as a cold case would be followed up on, because in some of these cases which they’ve pulled, Chief (Carol) Martin, a 28-year veteran of the police department, was actually the investigating officer on those cases,” said Gainesville Police Sgt. Kevin Holbrook, referring to the age of the evidence.
To complete the kits, a sexual assault nurse examiner at the hospital performs an examination on the alleged victim that involves questions about the assault and a physical examination for DNA evidence.
“Our property and evidence custodians went back through and pulled these SANE kits and are sending them to the GBI in waves, and all will have been sent by the end of the year,” he said.
Right now, the lab is only testing kits from 2014 and 2015 and will plan to work on the older kits when resources become available, according to Hall County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Deputy Nicole Bailes.
“We have 11 SANE kits that will be submitted to the GBI which cover 2014 and 2015,” Bailes wrote in an email. She said the total number is about 60 kits.
Kits involved in cases where the victim decided not to pursue charges or did not have an identified suspect offender previously were not tested.
Rape Response Executive Director Jeanne Buffington said a female victim on average takes 10 years to disclose the attack and it can be double for men “because of all the emotional dynamics as well as the physical dynamics.” Victims age 18 or older can elect whether or not to involve law enforcement, she said.
“So when you disclose immediately and go to the hospital for care and if you make that choice to get law enforcement involved, it’s just overwhelming and it’s frightening,” she said.
At a recent conference, Buffington said the victims who were speakers considered the first point of contact the most important in terms of proceeding in the judicial system.
“That compassion, that understanding and listening, I think it’s really important for survivors,” Buffington said. “They’ve had power and control taken away from them, so whoever the first person is — if it’s law enforcement or if it’s our office as advocates, or if it’s medical — that the most important thing to do is listen to them.”
Ultimately, law enforcement and advocates like Buffington said they believe the change will lead to possible links from other cases and more possible DNA matches. Holbrook said the evidence may make a connection with a profile on a crime unrelated to sexual assault, which can help other law enforcement agencies around the state.
“I appreciate that the GBI is making that effort, too, because I know that they’re slammed,” Buffington said. There’s a lot of unprocessed rape kits out there, and they’re working on that.”
GBI Forensic Biology Manager Cleveland Miles previously told The Times that DNA testing cases take anywhere from 30 days to 60 days before being assigned to an analyst due to a backlog. The full report is then processed within 30 subsequent days, Miles said.
“I do feel like we’re really fortunate in this area to have the relationships that we have, and the hospital does a great job, as well as law enforcement and judicial,” Buffington said. “I think we do a lot of things right.”