A New Year, A New Outlook

A New Year, A New OutlookAs we are quickly rounding out the first week of 2013, we cannot escape the headlines reminding us of the unnerving events occurring daily across the globe.  Whether it is sexual assault within our own country or violence in another, the reality is that we all may find ourselves a victim, in one way or another. Amidst the sadness of such current events, we are sometimes reminded of our own experiences. This can be emotional. When nurtured in the proper environment, exploring these emotions can often times lead to empathy and empowerment.

The Victim’s Information Bureau of Suffolk (VIBS) advocates that counseling helps victims understand what has happened to them, and helps survivors explore their options and take control of their lives. VIBS was created in hopes of changing lives and restoring dignity. If you are looking to start the year off by giving back, it may interest you to volunteer as an Emergency Room Companion (ERC) or as a Speakers Bureau Volunteer. For more information, visit http://www.vibs.org/volunteers.html.

In 2013, don’t forget to plan for your safety. Educate yourself and increase your understanding of our nation’s criminal justice system, social services and non-profit organizations fighting to make our neighborhoods safer places. Familiarize yourself with available counseling, information or hotlines associated with sexual assault. Learn where the nearest Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) Centers are located. For instance, there are four SANE Centers on Long Island: in Nassau County, North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset; in Suffolk County, Stony Brook University Medical Center, Peconic Bay Medical Center and Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center.

Be sure to remember the importance of self. Always be mindful of your thoughts and recognize the importance of being a survivor. Acknowledge the journey that has brought you to where you are. And if you are not a survivor, but know someone who is, encourage them throughout their journey, as that is what life truly is.

Photo courtesy of YanivG via flickr.com

Looking Back: Natasha’s Justice Project’s Proudest Moments from 2012

As the year winds down and we find ourselves reflecting upon our own personal accomplishments, Natasha’s Justice Project is honored to have the opportunity to share with you what we have achieved as an organization fighting to end the nation’s rape kit backlog.

Since its creation in March 2011, Natasha Alexenko has worked endlessly to create an organization dedicated to exposing and eliminating the rape kit backlog that exists in public municipalities throughout the United States. This year, thanks to the great efforts of Natasha and those around her, NJP has taken a great step forward in achieving its mission: we proudly hired our first full-time employees, Lauren Cavalieri, Director of Operations, and Kristen Heide, Director of Development. We also welcomed on-board Richard Santengelo, our law enforcement liason. Every organization needs a successful team of professional, hardworking staff members, interns and volunteers and this year, it seems as if we have found that team!

Earlier this year, Natasha hit the road visiting college campuses along the East Coast, empowering survivors of sexual assault and educating audiences about the backlog. Stops along her college tour included Stony Brook University, University of Delaware and George Washington University.

Following a speaking appearance at the California Association of Criminalists DNA Workshop in San Jose, California, Natasha was invited to be San Jose State University’s 2012 Forensic Science Convocation Commencement Speaker. Other speaking engagements included BODE Technology’s East, West and Mid-Atlantic Annual Advanced DNA Technical Workshops, as well as Stony Brook University’s SANE Training Program.

Advocacy, education and justice for anyone and everyone affected by sexual assault are the fundamental motives behind the founding of Natasha’s Justice Project. One of our most notable achievements reflecting these beliefs was our public release of a Request for Proposal (RFP), soliciting applications from local government entities for funding to eliminate a jurisdiction’s backlog of rape kits that have been collected, but not tested. The grant we are offering is part of the Backlog Elimination Pilot Project that aims to establish a model procedure for the elimination of a jurisdiction’s accumulated, untested kits.

While every year is full of challenges and triumphs, Natasha’s Justice Project likes to see every challenge as a personal triumph. In our fundraising efforts, one of our greatest triumphs was hosting our Inaugural Celebrity “Drive for Justice” Golf Outing at Pelham Country Club in Pelham, New York. Celebrity golfers included Jeremy Roenick, Jim McMahon and Ken Daneyko. All golfers attended a cocktail reception and dinner honoring Mrs. Patricia Lanza and the Lanza Family Foundation. The dinner also featured silent and live auctions, with all proceeds directly benefiting NJP. Together, with our dearest friends, family and supporters, we raised a significant amount of money to put towards eliminating the nation’s rape kit backlog. We are honored to be surrounded by such generous individuals and look forward to duplicating such a fantastic event in the upcoming year!

Although we are rounding out the year on high notes of gratitude and success, we must humbly remind ourselves of the more than 400,000 kits that are sitting in public municipalities throughout the United States, waiting to be tested. Every rape kit represents a person and every person’s body, unfortunately at one point, was a crime scene. Moving into the New Year, we are reminded of the population we are serving. We are fighting this fight for all survivors of sexual assault and are looking forward to the triumphs we may all achieve in 2013.

Natasha’s Justice Project would like to personally thank everyone who helps our organization’s future grow brighter with each passing day. We would not be where we are today without your continued support and dedication, and we thank you.

Wishing you all the best in the upcoming year!

With Gratitude,

Natasha’s Justice Project

Natasha’s Justice Project

Following the SAFER ACT: Reactions from Natasha’s Justice Project

njp-us capitolWhile national policies and procedures to determine exact numbers of untested rape kits may not yet exist, the upcoming year brings hope that this will be a problem of the past.

Natasha’s Justice Project (NJP) is eagerly watching Representative Ted Poe (R-Texas) and Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) work together to introduce the Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Registry or SAFER Act.  The SAFER Act would use already existing federal funding to help law enforcement officials process untested, backlogged rape kits.

In July 2012, Rep. Poe read Natasha’s story on the House of Representatives floor. NJP has proudly supported Rep. Poe on bipartisan platforms such as victim’s advocacy and of course, the SAFER Act and looks forward to continued endorsements.

Photo courtesy of jcolman via flickr.com

Backlog Elimination Project-RFP Extension Deadline

scales of justiceIn November 2012, Natasha’s Justice Project (NJP) publicly released a Request for Proposal (RFP) for its Backlog Elimination Project. The Backlog Elimination Project is a pilot project which ultimately aims to eliminate untested Sexual Offense Evidence Collection (SOEC) kits, also known as rape kits, within a chosen jurisdiction.

According to the National Institute of Justice, there is an estimated 400,000 untested kits across the United States. Through the pilot project, NJP hopes to reduce this number while significantly impacting the methodology of rape kit processing. Eliminating a jurisdiction’s backlog means that NJP has the opportunity to create a go-to source for other municipalities who would like to eliminate their backlog. Not only will the Backlog Elimination Project develop standard practices and procedures, it will also aid law enforcement officials with ongoing investigations while leading to the prosecution of previously unsolved sexual crimes within and beyond the selected jurisdiction(s).

Originally, all jurisdictions or municipalities interested in applying for the RFP were asked to submit a Letter of Intent (LOI) no later than December 1, 2012, with all completed RFP applications submitted no later than December 31, 2012. However, due to overwhelming interest, the Pilot Project Committee voted to extend both deadlines in order to fairly select the jurisdiction which will best fit the project’s undertaking. The new deadline for all LOI’s is January 31, 2013 with completed RFP applications submitted no later than February 28, 2013.

Once all applications are received by the Pilot Project Committee, a complete and thorough review will take place, in order to select a jurisdiction which best fulfills the grant requirements. The Pilot Project Committee consists of professionals experienced in the fields of law enforcement, research, victim advocacy, journalism, legal and related charitable organizations, as well as public and private DNA laboratory experts. NJP recruited qualified personnel to sit on the Committee in order to effectively create and carry out the methodology necessary to clear a backlog.

NJP is looking forward to collaborating with a jurisdiction which is ready to tackle this problem and bring justice to anyone and everyone who has been affected by sexual assault. The Backlog Elimination Project is NJP’s first (but certainly not last!) step towards exposing and eliminating the nationwide rape kit backlog.

Photo courtesy of vaxZine via flickr.com

Natasha Alexenko Exposes the Rape Kit Backlog on The Takeaway

“Rape kits are being shelved and left unprocessed for years…in the worst case scenarios kits are being destroyed by police.” reports Kristen Meinzer. Many thanks to The Takeaway for also featuring the amazingly brave Helena Lazaro to discuss her case and her difficult journey to getting her kit processed.

This article is a great introductory piece for those who are foreign to the issue of the rape kit backlog and the Natasha’s Justice Project mission of exposing and eliminating the backlog.

Natasha Alexenko Exposes the Rape Kit Backlog on The Takeaway

“Rape kits are being shelved and left unprocessed for years…in the worst case scenarios kits are being destroyed by police.” reports Kristen Meinzer. Many thanks to The Takeaway for also featuring the amazingly brave Helena Lazaro to discuss her case and her difficult journey to getting her kit processed.

This article is a great introductory piece for those who are foreign to the issue of the rape kit backlog and the Natasha’s Justice Project mission of exposing and eliminating the backlog.

Sexual Assault Survivor Advocate Hopes Penn State and Syracuse University Sexual Assault Cases Will Encourage Others to Report

West Sayville, NY – Natasha Alexenko, a sexual assault survivor and spokesperson for Natasha’s Justice Project is hopeful the event of sexual abuse that have come to light at Penn State University and Syracuse University will encourage more survivors to come forward and report their crimes. Ms. Alexenko reported her 1993 rape and testified in court, her perpetrator is currently imprisoned and will not be eligible for parole until 2057.

“Sexual assault is an underreported crime, often it is because of the survivor’s shame, guilt, or fear. The hope is that tragedies like those at Penn State and Syracuse will encourage others to come forward and seek justice,” said Alexenko.

Natasha Alexenko travels to colleges and universities across the United States to talk about her rape, which occurred in 1993 when she was a college student. She says she has been “seeing an increase in the dialogue surrounding this sensitive topic” on college campuses particularly after the Penn State University sexual assault scandal became public.

Do your neighboring municipalities have a rape kit backlog?

The rape kit backlog goes beyond the United States. This story from Australia details how DNA caught 24 people being charged with 33 historical sex attacks dating back as far as 1987.

It’s so important to realize the consequences of having a backlog on any level in that the issue goes far beyond your locality. Natasha’s perpetrator was apprehending in Las Vegas, Nevada but her attack occurred in New York City. Criminals can and do cross state, county, and international lines. If your municipality does not have a backlog that’s commendable but do you know about your adjacent counties or cities?