Backlog of sexual assault kit evidence in Nome to be processed by Virginia firm

Donations totaling $38,295 from Kawerak Inc., Norton Sound Health Corp. and the Norton Sound Economic Development Corp. will pay for testing by a Virginia firm of dozens of backlogged sexual assault kit evidence to speed up the criminal justice process.

The money will go to BODE Technology, a Virginia lab often employed by the state, to process sexual assault kit evidence on all of Nome’s backlogged cases, Kawerak officials said.

“All victims of sexual abuse deserve justice and perpetrators need to be held accountable,” said Kawerak President Melanie Bahnke, who authorized Kawerak to contribute $14,147.50 of the total amount.

NSHC also contributed $14,147.50 and NSEDC another $10,000.

“For more than a decade, NSHC has been collaborating with numerous regional partners to build a system which encourages victims of sexual assault to report because they have the confidence that follow through will be in place and justice will be served,” said Angie Gorn, chief executive officer of the health corporation. “NSHC will continue to advocate and is proud to be part of this community effort, to ensure adequate resources are available to meet the ongoing needs of our patients.”

In 2019 the Nome Police Department saw a 7 percent rise in sexual assault cases and responded to 88 reports of sexual assault. Adding to those numbers was a report from Nome City Manager Glenn Steckman that the police department has seen a spike in sexual assaults this year during the COVID-19 pandemic, with 98 cases logged as of Sept. 14.

The state Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory conducts the DNA testing from sexual assault kits and also has a backlog of kits to be processed and getting results from the tests can take a year to complete.