Sexual assaults section
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Sexual Assaults Section

Mission

The sexual assaults section of the Cold Case Unit works to:

  • Bring to justice rapists and sexual offenders who remain free, potentially to assault more people.
  • Ensure justice for sexual assault victims before the statute of limitations runs out on their cases.
  • Aid local law enforcement agencies in closing unresolved cases and making their communities safer.
History

The sexual assaults section was formed after Ohio initiated a push to perform DNA tests on sexual assault kits languishing in storage at law enforcement agencies across the state.

In that effort, initiated by then-Attorney General Mike DeWine in 2012, agencies submitted 13,931 sexual assault kits to BCI, which led to 8,648 DNA profiles being uploaded into CODIS, a national database of genetic profiles pulled from suspects, offenders and violent-crime evidence.

Based on the sexual assault kits, CODIS made more than 5,000 matches:

  • Between known assailants and crime scenes. In fact, the DNA of 300 individuals was linked to anywhere from three to 18 cases each.
  • Between crimes in which the assailant remained unknown because his or her DNA wasn’t in the national database.

Having a DNA match isn’t enough to make a case, though. Follow-up investigative work conducted by local law enforcement agencies is crucial, and put simply, under Attorney General Dave Yost, BCI realized many agencies lack the resources to bring the cold-case perpetrators to justice, including in cases where no CODIS matches were made.

The consequences of such unresolved investigations include prolonging the trauma for victims, decreasing trust in the criminal justice system, and allowing rapists to remain free, potentially to commit more crimes.

Why now
  • In Ohio, the statute of limitations for rape is 20 years, plus an additional five years if a DNA hit is obtained. There isn’t much time to wait in many of these cold cases. (A bill to eliminate the statute of eliminations for rape was introduced in the Ohio Senate in June 2019 but has not been passed. Attorney General Yost brought together former Ohio Attorneys General Richard Cordray, Nancy Rogers, Jim Petro, Betty Montgomery and Lee Fisher to help him press the General Assembly to do so.)
  • Unsubmitted sexual assault kits are still on law enforcement agencies’ shelves in Ohio. Submitting them, along with any new kits, needs to remain a focus.
  • The work of the Cuyahoga County Sexual Assault Kit Task Force, formed to follow up on the 5,000 sexual assault kits collected in that county between 1993 and 2010, has underscored how perpetrators of sexual assault often commit subsequent crimes, including additional sexual assaults. Researchers involved in the effort have found that serial rapists are far more common than previously thought, which is changing how sexual assaults – including “acquaintance rapes” – are investigated.
Team approach

The initiative is inherently collaborative, building on both external cooperation from local law enforcement agencies and prosecutors and internal cooperation within BCI. All sections of BCI are involved in pursuing every investigative strategy possible, including specialized DNA testing, for prioritized cases.

Within BCI:

  • The Cold Case Unit Supervisor and four BCI special agents are dedicated to investigations of cold case sexual assaults.
  • The Criminal Intelligence Unit Supervisor, who oversees a team of 16 analysts working in four offices across the state, coordinates analysis for the cases. A dedicated Criminal Intelligence Analyst/Genealogist investigates leads provided through familial and genealogy DNA testing, and all team members can be called on to contribute.
  • The DNA Unit Supervisor and a team of nine forensic scientists assist by providing DNA testing and researching cases that have already had sexual assault kits tested. In addition, they perform DNA analysis of newly submitted sexual assault kits.

BCI relies on an internal board of experts — scientists, analysts and representatives of the administration — to recommend which sexual assault cases would benefit the most from advanced DNA testing. But the BCI team provides more than evidence testing, including coordination with law enforcement agencies throughout Ohio to allocate the necessary resources and personnel to bring unsolved sexual assault cases to a close.

With local agencies:

The Cold Case Unit has two unique outreach efforts to bring in local departments on investigations:

Project SEND

The Cold Case Unit and the lab are working to notify agencies of thousands of older sexual assault cases in which new technological advancements could mean new leads.

Project SAK

For cases in which a DNA profile was developed from a sexual assault evidence kit, the Cold Case Unit and the lab are going back to the original agencies to alert them that additional investigative or laboratory strategies could make a difference in bringing the perpetrator to justice.

Every solved case is the result of many people bringing their specialty to the table, united for one purpose.