May 11, 2018 - 5:15 pm
Updated May 12, 2018 - 6:35 pm
Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt this week unveiled a website for sexual assault victims as part of his initiative to reduce the backlog of untested rape kits.
The website, which has been under construction for months, features resources for survivors, law enforcement contact information and details on Nevada’s initiative to test thousands of backlogged rape kits. It also includes statistics on testing, DNA matches and arrests made. The data will be updated monthly.
“This website serves as a clearinghouse for those in need of information and resources, and as a means of fulfilling our commitment to take a victim-centered approach to justice,” Laxalt said in a statement. “I hope this website will empower our survivors and connect them with support services that will ensure they receive quality and compassionate care.”
According to the attorney general’s office, roughly 7,584 untested kits were housed in Nevada at its peak. Data released in February by the Metropolitan Police Department showed that 4,750 sexual assault kits in Southern Nevada remain untested. The website said 6,108 kits have been sent for testing, and 3,811 tests have been completed.
Rape kit backlogs are a problem across the country. The backlog has been blamed on a lack of training, resources and policies that outline when to test rape kits.
“I think it’s a brilliant tool for sexual assault victims in our state that we really haven’t had it in past,” said Rachelle Pellissier, executive director of the Crisis Call Center in Reno. “What we always want to do is give an assault survivor their power back. This makes it very easy for them in a difficult time to get the resources and help they need.”
Daniele Dreitzer, executive director of the Rape Crisis Center in Las Vegas, said the majority of victims in cold cases are from outside Nevada. She said one of the website’s most important features is the list of both state and national resources.
“Maybe they lived here and they have since moved away or they were visiting Nevada at the time of the assault and always lived elsewhere,” Dreitzer said. “This website provides those links to not only resources within Nevada but nationwide.”
After the website launched, state Democrats filed a public records request for emails and other documents related to the site. Laxalt, the leading Republican gubernatorial candidate, has come under fire for not renouncing an endorsement from Storey County Sheriff Gerald Antinoro, who’s been accused of sexual misconduct.
Laxalt critics said the website is an attempt to deflect from that controversy.
“Laxalt’s desperate attempt at damage control won’t distract from his shameful silence on the controversy surrounding Sheriff Antinoro and refusal to denounce his endorsement,” said Helen Kalla, a spokeswoman for the Nevada Democratic Party.
But Laxalt spokeswoman Monica Moazez said the attorney general’s office reserved the website’s URL in September 2017, previewed it to the bipartisan Sexual Assault Kit Backlog Working Group in March and submitted it to the U.S. Department of Justice for approval in early April.
Moazez said her office was “disheartened” by the attack from Democrats.
“Just as this office has worked tirelessly to eliminate the decades-long rape kit backlog over the last three years, the site’s launch represents months of bipartisan hard work and coordination,” Moazez said. “Our crusade to seek justice for victims of sexual assault will not be deterred.”
Dreitzer , who sits on a working group to address the backlog, said advocates have been pushing for the website for years.
“It’s not like this just materialized out of thin air,” she said. “We’ve all been working to try to get this website up for quite some time.”