VERMILLION, S.D. – Bridget Diamond-Welch, associate professor of criminal justice, is the principal investigator for a new three-year, $500,000 grant to understand how sexual assault cases move through South Dakota’s criminal justice system.
The State of South Dakota was awarded the U.S. Department of Justice Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI) grant earlier in September. In addition to USD’s criminal justice studies program, partners in the program include the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigations; the South Dakota Network Against Family Violence and Sexual Assault; and the Center for the Prevention of Childhood Maltreatment.
The Beadle County State’s Attorney Office, led by Michael Moore (USD Law ’94), will house the initiative.
The goal of the study is to use a care-based approach to understand how sexual assault cases move through the criminal justice system and identify factors that may infringe upon successful prosecutions.
“So many people in our state care deeply about helping victims of sexual assault, but sometimes we are hindered by a lack of information on just what is going wrong with cases,” Diamond-Welch said. “This project will help us understand what happens between initial report and case dispensation. We will then use this information to create trainings for prosecutors on how to handle these cases.”
Krista Heeren-Graber, executive director of the South Dakota Network Against Family Violence and Sexual Assault, stated that the DOJ-sponsored research will assist in further development of sexual assault responses within communities across South Dakota.
“This grant will allow us to better understand and improve the sexual assault kit process,” Heeren-Graber said. “The network is honored to be a part of this grant projected and committed to working together to provide a safer South Dakota.”
Professor David Earnest, chair of the Department of Political Science in which criminal justice studies is housed, identified the DOJ grant as an example of USD’s commitment to solutions-focused research that helps South Dakota’s communities.
“Professor Diamond-Welch worked with stakeholders to build a coalition of researchers, advocates and policy makers to effect meaningful change in sexual assault prosecutions,” Earnest said. “It is the perfect example of how USD brings faculty expertise into our communities to address South Dakota’s most pressing challenges.”