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Rape victim puts focus on solving cases

Natasha Alexenko talks about the founding of Natasha's

Natasha Alexenko talks about the founding of Natasha's Justice Institute outside of her lawyer's office in West Sayville, on June 1, 2011. Credit: James Carbone

A Long Island woman who survived a sexual assault has started a foundation to bring attention to the importance of promptly analyzing evidence taken from rape victims.

"I really felt that I needed to help others who went through a similar process finding resolution," said Natasha Alexenko, 38, the founder and spokeswoman for Natasha's Justice Project. She waited 16 years to see the man who raped her put behind bars because New York at one time had 17,000 kits of evidence backlogged. Her assailant was found six months shy of the statute of limitations.

The case was solved because of an effort that began in 2000 by the Manhattan district attorney's office to analyze old rape kits, said Erin M. Duggan, chief spokeswoman of the Manhattan district attorney's office. The program became a national model, she said.

Alexenko, who was born in West Islip but grew up in Ontario, was a 20-year-old student at New York Institute of Technology when she was raped in the hallway of her Manhattan apartment building. After the attack, she went back to Ontario to be with friends and family.

She returned to New York in 2005. Then in 2007, a New York City detective tracked her down to tell her that her assailant was found through a DNA match. Victor Rondon, 45, was eventually convicted of rape, sodomy and other charges. He becomes eligible for parole in 2057.

Alexenko's story will be featured in a documentary called "Sex Crimes Unit," which will air June 20 on HBO. HBO contacted Alexenko through the Manhattan district attorney's office after she told prosecutors that she wanted to help other victims.

West Sayville attorney Mark Murray and his wife, Olga, helped the foundation get incorporated and it is in the process of getting nonprofit status.

Alexenko said she didn't start the foundation out of a sense of revenge, since she has forgiven her assailant. Rather, she said, it was a matter of justice and taking what could be the most traumatizing experience of her life and turning it into something to help others.

She said she wants to make sure other victims don't have to wait as long as she did.

"You are a victim of sexual assault, you go to the hospital and undergo this invasive process. It's almost as if you're re-victimized. Your body is a crime scene and here it is, it sits on a shelf," said Alexenko in an interview.

According to Duggan, DNA collection for all felony convictions began in New York State in 2006. As of last August, the state had 367,633 samples from convicted defendants in its database, and 32,718 forensic samples taken from rape kits and crime scenes. More than 10,201 crimes have been solved or helped because of matches made.

The push to analyze the kits involved "the City, NYPD and the DA's office putting significant resources of time and money behind the effort -- and it paid off, in justice for the victims," Duggan said.

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