Sexual Assault Kit Initiative
Preventing delays in the handling and investigation of sexual assault cases
Bureau of Justice Assistance
IACP, SANE-SART Resource Service, Aequitas, Michigan State University, Kinetic Learning, Joyful Heart Foundation, RAINN
In a nationally representative survey of state and local law enforcement agencies conducted by RTI for the National Institute of Justice, 18 percent of unsolved sexual assault cases from 2003–2007 had forensic evidence that was not submitted to a crime laboratory for analysis. Unsubmitted sexual assault kits result in delays in the justice system and, in some instances, the denial of justice for sexual assault survivors.
Research has shown that communities with large numbers of unsubmitted sexual assault kits struggle with systemic challenges such as limited understanding of the value of forensic evidence, lack of policies for evidence submission and analysis, and weak interorganizational collaborations for victim-centered post-assault services. To address these challenges, solutions must promote cross-agency collaboration and training, in addition to building information systems that help optimize forensic science resources and ensure accountability.
Implementing Training on Collection and Processing of Forensic Evidence for Sexual Assault Cases
In 2015, we were selected by the Bureau of Justice Assistance to provide training and technical assistance for its Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI).
The SAKI training and technical assistance (TTA) program assists coordinated teams of police, prosecutors, crime labs, and victim services agencies with evidence-based, victim-centered, and sustainable practices for collecting and processing forensic evidence for sexual assault cases.
In 2016, 32 legal jurisdictions were funded through SAKI. Our experts provide these jurisdictions with customized TTA to meet the needs of their agencies regarding investigations, prosecution, inventorying and tracking of sexual assault kits, as well as victim engagement.
Our aim is to enable jurisdictions to address and reduce the numbers of unsubmitted sexual assault kits by promoting effective practices, including
- Creating and maintaining a sexual assault response team
- Identifying investigative steps to take after a positive identification
- Overcoming challenges related to cold case prosecutions
- Identifying gaps in local sexual assault nurse examiner programs
- Linking crime laboratory information systems with investigations and prosecutions
- Strategies for supporting the victim and training victim advocates.
By encouraging adoption of data-driven and effective practices, we aim to facilitate the sexual assault response team concept, particularly in jurisdictions with a significant number of unsubmitted sexual assault kits.
In support of this initiative, RTI leads a collaborative team of distinguished partners who represent relevant areas of expertise and interest, including law enforcement, nurse examiners, prosecution, researchers, curriculum development, and advocacy.
Improving Sexual Assault Investigation and Response for Sexual Assault Victims
Through our project activities, we aim to enhance the understanding of sexual violence and trauma by law enforcement, medical forensic professionals, and prosecutors, and bolster their capacity to address sexual assault and respond meaningfully to sexual assault victims. As of October 2016, the project inventoried 26,757 kits and sent 8,740 kits for testing.
Our team also works with law enforcement, medical forensic scientists, and legal stakeholders to collaborate and provide the necessary skills, tools, and knowledge to effectively investigate and prosecute sexual assault. We have conducted 16 webinars for practitioners, provided trainings, and performed site visits, educating more than 1,500 professionals who work with sexual assault victims. We have also created practitioner resources that can be downloaded from the SAKI website.
Ultimately, the SAKI program will improve the nation’s criminal justice system by delivering evidence-based practices and knowledge to those who are working every day to help victims and make communities safer.