TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — A grant that’s bringing perpetrators to justice is long overdue.
The ‘Sexual Assault Kit Initiative’ known as the SAKI grant, is already making a difference in our community and clearing a backlog of unsolved cases.
In fact, it is not only taking sexual assault cases off the shelves, but it’s also helping survivors get one step closer to justice.
Hundreds of reports, piled up paperwork, and sexual assault cases were left on the shelves until 2016.
That’s when the Tucson Police Department’s crime lab received the District Attorney of New York grant known as the DANY grant.
This gave them $1,038,000 to test 1,200 rape kits.
Each kit costs $645.00--
KGUN( talked to TPD Detective Mary Pekas about how this grant helped the department get rid of its backlog.
“Initially we had a backlog of over 1,900 kits and so when we started doing our analysis of that, that resulted in just over 900 in which there was a DNA profile that was developed. These profiles were eligible to be entered in CODIS, which is known as the Combined DNA Index System,” she said.
According to the CDC, more than one in three women are sexually assaulted in their lifetime. Nearly one in four men are sexually assaulted in theirs.
“And one in two people who are gender non-conforming. There are survivors all around us,” said Colleen Phelan, a victim advocate with the Pima County Attorney’s Office.
She says those statistics are under-reported.
Which means countless victims are oftentimes left waiting for answers, closure, and ultimately justice.
Thankfully, the DANY grant funding has allowed tpd to wipe out its backlog and solve one of their biggest sexual assault cases; that of Nathan Loebe, a child-actor imposter.
“Pretty early in the process, Nathan Loebe’s DNA showed up in three cases here in Tucson Police and an additional case back east. A background investigation into him showed there were over 40 women here in southern Arizona that had been either sexually assaulted, or harassed, or threatened by him over the course of multiple years,” said Dallas Wilson, a detective with TPD.
In 2019, a Pima County jury convicted Loebe of 12 counts of sexual assault and 10 additoinal charges, that inlcuded kidnapping.
He's serving more than 250 years in prison.
That same year, Pima County received $2,000,000 as part of the SAKI grant.
This funding will go through 2022.
“This is something that we share with the Pima County Attorney's Office as well as the Pima County Sheriff's office,” said Detective Pekas.
This has become a collaborative effort that has kept TPD’s backlog at bay, has helped the Pima County Sheriff’s Department work on theirs, and has led to more than 400 DNA hits between the DANY and SAKI grant.
“So that means 430 known offenders that we can reopen these cases and reinvestigate them and then deliver some answers to victims,” added Detective Pekas.
While this funding is helpful, detective Pekas is the first to recognize these grants can only do so much.
“We’re also using better technology and it’s evolving all the time. So there’s an opportunity to catch up with these folks and get them off the street,” she told KGUN9.
“As more and more people’s DNA is put into the system, we’re able to identify more serial predators,” added Detective Wilson.
So while cases may be decades old, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll go cold.
“I think that DNA has come a long way and I think it will continue to come a long way,” said victim’s advocate Phelan.
Detectives Pekas and Wilson, and Phelan want survivors to know they’re not alone.
“Closure comes in a lot of ways, but one way it doesn't is by not asking. It’s important that people know those resources are available whether you were sexually assaulted yesterday, 10 years ago or 50 years ago,” Phelan told KGUN9.
Investigators and those in criminal justice have a message for perpetrators.
“I’m sorry that it took so long, but I am grateful now that we are at least able to, to re-investigate old cases and make an arrest,” said Detective Wilson.
“This is an opportunity for us to hold people accountable for the things that they’ve done and deliver justice,” added Detective Pekas.
“I would ask for everybody to stand with survivors and fight for them,” Phelan told KGUN9.
Click links below for sexual assault survivor resources.