KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Attorney General Dana Nessel was in Kalamazoo Friday, meeting with the local prosecutor’s office and advocates for sexual assault survivors to discuss an ongoing initiative focused on cracking cold cases.
The Sexual Assault Kit Initiative, or SAKI, was formed in 2017 as a collaboration between the two offices and the YWCA of Kalamazoo.
Nessel called SAKI the gold standard.
“It’s really a model of success here,” Nessel said.
In the last six years, the Kalamazoo SAKI team has produced 17 convictions with 10 cases awaiting trial. This amounts to more than 10% of its 225 total cold case sexual assault investigations, some of which date back as far as 1976.
Nessel said these kinds of cases are the “hardest of any kind to solve and prosecute.”
“You’re changing lives. You’re improving people’s lives,” Nessel said. “There are all kinds of people out there that are walking around on the streets of Kalamazoo and all over the state of Michigan, who are living normal lives because they never become a crime victim in the first place because of the work that you guys have done.”
Many of SAKI’s cases involve previously untested rape kits, which are now required by law to be tested.
But in these investigations, prosecutors said DNA and the victim’s testimony are not the only pieces of evidence being considered.
“A comprehensive investigation is one that talks to the people that are close to the victim. When something has been reported, ‘Have you seen changes in the way the victim’s day-to-day activities are being done,’ right?” said Kalamazoo County Prosecutor Jeff Getting. “We can look for corroboration in lots of different ways.”
“DNA has really not been the crux of most of our cases,” said Erin House, Kalamazoo County’s assistant attorney general. “Most of the survivors in our cases knew the person that assaulted them, so the DNA didn’t prove who it was.”
The team anticipates more breakthroughs, arraignments and convictions in these sexual assault cases, hoping to change the way these cases are handled and how survivors get the justice and closure they need.
“Even if they don’t want their case prosecuted, even if the police and prosecutor make a determination that there isn’t enough evidence … we just need people knowing that they were believed, that this wasn’t their fault about what happened, that this shouldn’t define how they feel about themselves,” House said. “If we can get them more support, it doesn’t have to be so detrimental for their lives in the future.”
“It gives survivors the courage to come forward earlier,” Nessel said. “And again, what this group is doing is so impactful and important.”
The Kalamazoo County Prosecutor’s Office said the next court session with a SAKI-related case involves a man accused of sexually assaulting a woman in Portage in August 2010.
He faces four counts of first-degree criminal sexual assault.
The jury trial is expected to start sometime this fall.