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DNA testing helps sexual assault victims seek justice

By Mara Koch
Special to The PREVIEW

Last month, community members from Pagosa Springs joined the global campaign to demand an end to violence against women and girls with a silent vigil to highlight the challenges and strengths that survivors of violence face in a rural community and which affect their ability to heal from the violence and seek justice.

Over 30 community members gathered for a walk and candlelight vigil in downtown Pagosa Springs sponsored by the Archuleta County Victim Assistance Program. Some shared their personal stories of violence in an effort to break the silence and stigma that is often associated with victimization. The courage of those who offered testimonials was evident and highlighted the challenges that victims face when seeking justice for the crimes committed against them.

One in three women across the planet will experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. In response to this atrocity, One Billion Rising — a campaign that brought together one billion human beings from 207 countries and territories in 2013 to demand an end to the violence — organized the 2014 campaign with the theme of Rising For Justice.

“More and more we are witnessing our nation continuing to gain momentum when it comes to recognizing the needs of victims, including their need for justice. What was once common place — a victim reports a crime committed against them to only be not believed — is now becoming increasingly rare. While there is still much room to grow, thankfully our justice system is lessening the gap and victims are receiving more justice then they did even 10 years ago,” says Carmen Hubbs, ACVAP’s executive director.

Fortunately, recent state legislation has increased the likelihood that a victim may receive justice. HB 1020, which was approved in June 2013, sets rules for the testing of forensic evidence in sexual assault cases, as well as requiring a resolution to the problem of DNA backlogs within the system. The Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has set a plan for resolving this backlog of DNA evidence and over $6 million was appropriated by the state to assist in this plan.

Photo courtesy Mara Koch Pagosa Springs High School students participated in the “Love Is ...” campaign as part of Archuleta County Victim Assistance Program’s activities for Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. Mara Koch, ACVAP, and Shane Lucero, Dragon Youth Project, talked with students about healthy relationships and what love means to them. Positive “Love Is. ..” messages were posted on Instagram, and the most “liked” messages won prizes.

Photo courtesy Mara Koch
Pagosa Springs High School students participated in the “Love Is …” campaign as part of Archuleta County Victim Assistance Program’s activities for Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. Mara Koch, ACVAP, and Shane Lucero, Dragon Youth Project, talked with students about healthy relationships and what love means to them. Positive “Love Is. ..” messages were posted on Instagram, and the most “liked” messages won prizes.

CBI has begun the process of testing kits from 1996 and on where the victim was a child, and kits from 2004 and on where the victim was an adult. Kits prior to that time period will not be tested due to the statute of limitations. Law enforcement will likely see the results of testing by May. The Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CCASA) is currently working with Colorado Organization for Victim Assistance and the End Violence Against Women Project to develop best practices and guidelines for a victim-centered approach to notifying victims about the results of backlog kit testing.

Archuleta County has seen what results of funding for DNA testing can do. Recently, Charles Stane was sentenced to 46 years in the Colorado Department of Corrections after being convicted for the murder of a local woman in 1988. New information came to light as a result of a federal grant to expedite DNA testing on cold case homicides.

When asked about the possible results of HB 1020, Karen Moldovan of CCASA said, “Hopefully, we will ultimately see the results of more kits being tested, victims feeling more ‘in control’ of those decisions, and more offenders being held accountable.”

This story was posted on March 6, 2014.