Federal grant will help fight sex assault

HARTFORD — The arrival of $2.6 million in federal grants will allow state criminal investigators to review more than 2,000 cases of sexual assault dating back at least 10 years.

While Chief State’s Attorney Kevin T. Kane said Friday that most of the cases had already been solved, the DNA evidence gleaned from the shoebox-sized rape kits — collected after victims visited hospitals — could help solve future cases, including other types of crimes.

During a news conference at the State Capitol complex, Kane joined Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and members of the Governor’s Sexual Assault Kit Working Group, including the governor’s wife Cathy Malloy, and professionals from throughout the state to commemorate how far Connecticut has advanced in its investigative abilities and, especially, improved cooperation among various agencies, including hospitals and social workers.

“Scientifically, culturally, communications, human relations with people, have improved greatly,” Kane said, stressing that protecting the chain of evidence, from the crime scene to the courtroom, has improved drastically since the 1970s and 1980s, when DNA-based investigation was in its infancy. “We have a commitment to test all of these kits,” Kane said, acknowledging that the State Forensic Science Laboratory had been both overwhelmed and a victim of budget cutting.

“Part of the backlog problem is that people didn’t understand the technology,” said Malloy, who was a New York State prosecutor in the 1980s. “Now we live in a society where the evidence is discussed almost every night on TV on some crime show or whatever and there’s a greater understanding of how important this data is and how cases can be closed.”

The governor also praised the heightened awareness of sexual assault in the country.

“Quite frankly, it’s high time that we had that discussion as a nation,” he said.

Part of the federal grants will be used to help secure evidence in sex-assault cases, including the tagging of rape kits with computer bar codes. “That’s a phenomenal step to keep track of the chain of evidence,” Kane said.

The kits that will be tested include 1,188 collected since April of 2015 that have not been examined by the lab, and 1,000 partially tested kits from incidents reported before 2008.

Fairfield Police Detective Kerry Dalling, a 20-year veteran of her department, said she has seen the transition from focusing on assailants and preparing cases for trial.

“I think what I’ve realize in my own career and what I think we’re realizing as a law enforcement community is there’s a whole other half to that and that’s the victim impact,” Dalling said. “Certainly one of the things that the task force represents is the work that we’re doing to recognize the trauma that victims experience and how we as law enforcement can help those victims. Oftentimes we as law enforcement are the first to encounter victims of sexual violence and we can have quite an impact on those victims’ lives.”

Cathy Malloy, former executive director of the Stamford-based Center for Sexual Assault Crisis Counseling and Education when her husband was mayor, said sexist jokes, voyeurism, sexual harassment, rape, incest and murder represent the scope of the social problem, which still often boils down to a “he said/she said” confrontation after the fact.

“Can you imagine being raped, and in most cases being raped by someone you have familiarity with?” she asked. “And then having to go to the hospital and undergo what sometimes seems like another violation of your body, often taking hours? This is a very, very tough thing to endure, not really knowing what the outcome will be. And finally, the reason we are here today: To think that all you’ve been through and all the courage it took to get you there, to that point that the evidence that was collected would sit on a shelf.”