The Sexual Assault Evidence Kit (SAEK) Policy and Funding Committee has submitted its 2022 Annual Report, the fourth annual report since its creation in 2017. The Committee was established to create uniform, statewide policies regarding the collection, testing, and retention of medical forensic evidence in sexual assault cases and increase access to justice for sexual assault victims. The SAEK Committee must submit an annual report of its activities during the prior fiscal year to the Governor and the General Assembly.
In September 2018, Maryland was awarded $2.6 million in Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI) grant funding to conduct a statewide inventory of unsubmitted kits, test a portion of the unsubmitted kits, establish a statewide tracking system, and provide victim services. In December 2021, Maryland was awarded another $2.5 million in SAKI grant funds. In addition to continuing efforts under the previous grant, the FY2021 grant funding will be used to hire investigators to support local law enforcement agencies and hire a Violent Criminal Apprehension Program/CODIS Hit Coordinator.
Consistent with OAG regulations finalized in 2020, law enforcement agencies (LEAs) must now annually report an expanded list of data regarding their handling of SAEKs. As of December 15, 2021, the Office of Attorney General has received reports from 43 LEAs – 59% of the 74 agencies that investigate sexual assaults. The 43 agencies reported possessing over 6,900 untested kits. This number reflects all kits that were collected up until June 30, 2021, including anonymous kits, which are exempt from testing in Maryland. The SAEK Committee will continue to follow up with agencies who did not submit an annual report and publish updated data on the Committee’s webpage.
The Committee’s initial analysis of the data suggests that although there has been an improvement regarding LEAs retaining kits for the 20-year retention timeframe, some agencies are not testing kits in accordance with the statewide testing criteria. The law requires that all SAEKs be submitted for testing, with only a few exemptions. Some LEAs provided additional reasons for not testing a SAEK that are inconsistent with the statewide testing criteria. To ensure that kits are tested in accordance with the law, the SAEK Committee will contact each agency that is not submitting kits in accordance with the new testing criteria and provide additional training.
In 2020, the General Assembly passed legislation requiring forensic laboratories to report annually to the SAEK Committee the duration required to complete testing, from the time a kit is received to the time the report is prepared. As of December 15, 2021, OAG has received reports from three of the State’s six forensic laboratories. The three forensic labs reported testing a combined total of 521 SAEKs in FY2021. Of the kits received and tested in FY2021, the average time between the lab receiving the kit and producing a final report was 5 months.
As noted in the annual report, the Committee will also ask the General Assembly to make permanent the 3-year HIV nPEP Pilot Program it established in 2019. The program, which is set to expire later this year, funds the full 28-day course of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) non-occupational post-exposure prophylaxis (nPEP) treatment for victims of sexual assault. HIV nPEP is a form of medical intervention designed to prevent HIV infection after exposure to the virus. The medication must be started within 72 hours to maximize its effectiveness. Under the Pilot Program, a victim of sexual assault or child sexual abuse will be provided the full course of nPEP treatment and follow-up care free of charge, if the medication is requested by the victim or prescribed by a healthcare provider.