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$1.4 million grant allows untested sexual assault evidence kits to be tested

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RICHMOND, Va. -- Attorney General Mark Herring announced Thursday that more than $1 million in grant money will allow the state to get “started right away” testing more than 2,000 Physical Evidence Recovery Kits (PERK) that were used to collect evidence after alleged sexual assaults but were never tested.

The grant was awarded to Virginia as part of the Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance’s $38 million dollar initiative to test 56,000 PERKs in more than 20 states.

“It’s going to mean so much for survivors,” Herring said.

Herring said the testing will allow law enforcement to link additional sexual assaults to known perpetrators, and connect assaults by perpetrators who have yet to be identified.

“Sadly, sexual violence is often a serial crime,” Herring said.

Attorney General Mark Herring

Attorney General Mark Herring

Fatima M. Smith, who works for the YWCA of Richmond, helps sexual assault survivors at the hospital. “The exam can take anywhere from 2 to 4 hours,” Smith said.

Smith said those links highlighted by Herring could compel a survivor to move forward with charges they declined to pursue in the past.

“That could bring some relief to a survivor knowing that their kit matched someone else’s [kit],” Smith said.

More than 400 PERKs remain untested in Richmond, Chesterfield, and Henrico, according to a report by the Department of Forensic Science released to the General Assembly in July 2015.

Statewide there are a number of reasons why the kits were never tested, including “unknown,” “unfounded,” and “not enough evidence.”

“I’ve seen many situations where investigators decide not to test something that they should test,” CBS 6 legal analyst Todd Stone said.

Stone said it just makes sense to test the kits.

“It’s very possible they will send these things to be tested and 90 percent of them won’t change anything, but if 10 percent do, then that makes a difference,” Stone said.

The state is still working out how to pick up the kits, and in what order they will be tested.