The National Sexual Assault Policy Symposium
Learn about the NIJ National Sexual Assault Policy Symposium held in September 2016 from its audience members and organizers. The Symposium focused on how the nation is moving forward and finding solutions to the complex issues that arise in sexual assault cases and in testing sexual assault evidence.
Heather Waltke, AD, Office of Investigative & Forensic Sciences, NIJ: The diversity of the event is very important, because it's an issue that encompasses all aspects of the criminal justice system, including survivors, advocates, laboratories, law enforcement, the medical community, the prosecutorial community, and the defense community, and we really wanted the opportunity to have our audience be able to put that all together and come up with solutions, and hear how other people are succeeding, and they lessons that they've learned.
Howard Spivak, MD, Deputy Director and Chief of Staff, NIJ: The driving force around this has been the backlog of untested, and often unsubmitted, sexual assault kits. But the issue is bigger than that, in terms of how the whole response of the system is to the problem.
Heather Waltke: The structure of the symposium is such that we bring the audience through, sort of, the entire process. The initial trauma that a survivor experiences, first response, law enforcement, and investigators as well.
Gerald LaPorte, Director, Office of Investigative and Forensic Sciences, NIJ: As we talk more about the issue, I think that's creating, you know, more insight, more momentum. The idea that--that some jurisdictions might feel like they're alone in this, and then when you kind of get into a room and talk about this, they realize that "I'm not alone, there's all kinds of--many other jurisdictions that are experiencing these same issues."
Heather Waltke: The symposium is organized into panel discussions. We chose not to have break-out sessions because we felt it was really important for people from all aspects of the issue to be present for presentations from all of the criminal justice community.
Jay W. Henry, Crime Lab Director, Utah Department of Public Safety: Crime lab people--we tend to only talk to other crime lab people, and we don't usually go to victim conferences, we don't go to, say, nurse, or even investigator, prosecutor conferences, so it's helpful to have an all-encompassing policy summit such as this, to come together and hear other perspectives.
Martha Bashford, Chief, Sex Crimes Unit, NY County DA: I think one of the things NIJ research has really shown is that collaboration among different disciplines is very important to the successful prosecution of sexual assaults.
Natasha S. Alexenko, Survivor and Founder of Natasha's Project:It's so wonderful to see that we now, at symposiums such as this one, you have so many different disciplines here. So we have, of course, myself, which is a survivor of sexual assault, we've got the NIJ working on board, we've got the DOJ here, we've got the OVW, all the acronyms are here. And we have, you know, law enforcement, we have prosecutors, advocates, I spoke with some sexual assault nurse examiners, I mean, this is, it's a community. A whole community is here to talk about this.
Martha Bashford: To have a two-day symposium on just sexual assault is really pretty amazing.
Brady Mills, Deputy AD, Texas Department of Public Safety: Bringing all players to the table--victims, advocates, you know, and others, has really opened our eyes and taught us quite a bit.
Mary Lentschke, Assistant Chief, Houston Police Department: The symposium, that the bringing of people together with the common purpose of addressing--now there are sexual assault kit issues--but improving other sexual assault responses to the victims, and to the communities, is critical.
Matthew Gamette, Laboratory System Director, Idaho State Police Forensic Services: It's been fantastic. This symposium has been very, very well done. I've been in on the planning groups, to plan the symposium, and I've been very excited about the interest of DOJ and NIJ, in seeking a wide variety of individuals, and a lot of different opinions, to present at this conference.
Heather Waltke: Well, we found it incredibly important to bring the audience through the whole process, so that they have a greater understanding of how this affects the survivors, and really, the people that are at the heart of the matter.
Kim Murga, Director, Lab Services, Las Vegas Metro PD: So I think it's important to see what other agencies are doing, and where we really need to shore up our--our process internally, to ensure that we have the best--the best practice and the best approach moving forward.
Natasha S. Alexenko: And the only way that we're going to solve the problem of untested rape kits, is if every part of that chain is involved. And they are--they're here. Watch an interview with Natasha.
Gerald LaPorte: So I think all of that has culminated into this idea of momentum. And, you know, hopefully with this symposium, we actually keep that momentum going, push it forward a little bit more, and maybe even speed up the process.
Martha Bashford: I think when you see that kind of in-depth treatment and a collection of these many people, it's like, it's going to be like throwing a rock into a pond. You know, there's the initial splash, but then the ripples keep going out across the country, and I think that'll just be hugely important.
Opinions or points of view expressed in these recordings represent those of the speakers and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice. Any commercial products and manufacturers discussed in these recordings are presented for informational purposes only and do not constitute product approval or endorsement by the U.S. Department of Justice.