Law Enforcement Attend Training with National Experts on Rape Investigations

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As reported in a series by the Plain Dealer and the Northeast Ohio Media Group, police and Cuyahoga County prosecutors are working to investigate sexual assault cold cases, with thousands of old rape kits still untested for DNA evidence.

In some instances in the 1990s, the series reported, police closed cases after falling out of touch with women who had reported being assaulted.

Teresa Matthews, who works with witnesses and victims for the county prosecutor, says this conference is aimed at improving investigative practices -- and helping authorities better work with sexual assault.

"Just making sure that we keep it focused on the survivors in these cases, making sure that we're not doing anything to retraumatize them in the process, while we're trying to seek justice for them," Matthews said.

Attendees Thursday afternoon heard a presentation on collecting evidence and interrogating suspects. Other talks are scheduled on counseling survivors of sexual assault.

Jim Markey, one of the presenters, worked for the police department in Phoenix, Ariz. He says jurisdictions across the country are facing backlogs in untested rape kits, and that there are many reasons for this, including budget and personnel constraints.

"Manpower is a big issue," Markey said. "With crime labs, it's do they have the resources, do they have the equipment, do they have the personnel, are the personnel trained to handle this many types of cases."

The conference ends Friday, but Matthews says the county prosecutor's office and the National Center for Victims of Crime will be in touch on a regular basis.

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