Sarah Tofte comes to Joyful Heart with ten years of experience working on criminal justice responses to sexual and domestic violence. Her area of expertise is on the rape kit backlog in the United States, and she has significant experience engaging policymakers, non-profits and the media on issues of violence against women. Before starting at Joyful Heart, Sarah was at Human Rights Watch.
Posts by Sarah
I recently spoke with Kimberly Hurst, the Executive Director of the Wayne County Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner’s (SAFE) Program, who told me about her work starting Detroit’s SAFE program and caring for victims of sexual assault.
Sarah Tofte: Thank you for taking the time to speak with me today. Would you talk about your current work and how you got here?
Kimberly Hurst: I am the Executive Director for the Wayne County Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner’s Program. I founded the program in 2006, and we are the only non-profit provider of sexual assault exams in Detroit. We are the largest SAFE program in the state and the busiest. We provide medical and forensic care, as well as community- based advocacy and crisis intervention services. We provide a comprehensive and compassionate continuum of care in order to improve the community’s response to sexual assault and set a higher a standard.
I am a licensed physician’s assistant and my training is in Emergency Medicine. I have been practicing for ten years. When I was in school, I had a strong interest in the forensics and the pathology. I had done a rotation doing autopsies and More >
Armen Keteyian and Laura Strickler’s five month investigation into untested rape kits nationwide uncovering 20,000 untested rape kits in various cities won the 2010 Emmy for Outstanding Investigative Journalism, as well as the 2010 Gracie Award for Best Investigative Program.
Sarah Tofte: How did you get interested in journalism as a career?
Laura Strickler: In 2003, I was working on a masters in public administration, but I dropped out, and started doing a documentary film program and was completely taken with it. It was much more interesting than statistics.
Long story short, I started in public radio, and joined the CBS News investigative unit in 2006.
ST: How did you get interested in the story of the rape kit backlog?
LS: My colleague had just finished a brilliant story that looked at veteran suicides across the country, and it was a large data project that required my colleague to call every single state’s coroner’s office to figure out how many veterans’ deaths were classified as suicides. It was a very significant story since it was at the beginning of the national discussion about what could be done to More >
Late in November, I interviewed Sgt. Liz Donegan of the Austin Police Department’s Sex Crimes Unit about her groups’ response to sexual violence, their new campaign, “We Believe,” as well as Austin’s elimination of its rape kit backlog.
Sarah Tofte: How did you decide to become a police officer?
Sgt. Liz Donegan: I have always wanted to be a police officer, every since I was a little girl. I have four sisters and all of them will tell you that’s all I ever talked about when I was younger. It sounds cliche, but I really wanted to help people and I thought being a cop was an exciting way to do that. It took me a while to get around to becoming a police officer. I had served in the Army after leaving college. When my tour was up, I moved to Texas and began working at the Sheriff’s Department. I worked as a corrections officer and then was hired on with the Austin Police Department. I did not have any reservations about working within policing, as I had worked in many male dominated fields previously. I believed if I worked hard and it showed in More >
A young woman, Stephanie (not her real name), came to see me in my New York office. She had been raped in Chicago two years earlier, and had heard from an advocate there for rape victims that I was writing a report on untested DNA evidence from rape cases in Illinois. I took her for coffee so we could get to know each other before I interviewed her, and we talked about her teaching job, her move to New York City and my new son.
Then, in the middle of our introduction to one another, Stephanie said: “After this experience, I don’t feel safe anymore. I am a tough girl, but it made me feel like if something happened, the law isn’t there for me. It doesn’t really work.”
Stephanie was talking about the fact that the DNA evidence, known as a “rape kit”—collected over a period of hours in the emergency room with medical personnel examining her entire body—had never been tested. Her rapist had never been interviewed by the police or arrested. And now, two years later, she was trying to come More >
Two weeks ago, I posted about Vice President Biden’s announcement of new initiatives from the federal government to improve the response to sexual and domestic violence. This week, I spoke with Kristina Rose, Deputy Director of the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), to discuss NIJ’s new sexual assault kit action research project.
Sarah Tofte: Tell me a bit about your background and how you got interested in issues around rape kit reform.
Kristina Rose: I have been working for about 25 years on crime and criminal justice issues. In the 1980’s, I was lucky enough to serve on a county crime victim board that addressed crime victims’ concerns, and that is where I got my first introduction to violence against women issues. Hearing crime victims tell their stories, especially around domestic violence and sexual assault, really moved me.
When I worked at the Office on Violence Against Women I had a great boss who supported the projects I felt most strongly about, which included sexual violence issues. I became very interested in best practices for treating victims of sexual assault, especially involving the forensic examination. We developed a virtual training DVD with Dartmouth Medical School and as part of that project, I produced More >