The purpose of this project is to better understand the underlying factors that contribute to the high number of sexual assault kits (SAKs) that have not been submitted to the crime lab for analysis in Houston, TX. The project will utilize action research techniques such as interactive inquire process by conducting focus groups and discussions with victims, victim advocates, and other related professionals who are knowledgeable about the process of collecting and testing sexual assault kits. Findings will be used to build, inform, and shape a plan of action to alleviate these untested sexual assault kits.
The Institute of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault (IDVSA) is working with community partners including Houston Police Department’s Crime Lab, Houston Area Women’s Center, Sam Houston University’s Criminal Justice research unit, SANE nurses, and others to collaboratively identify the problem and recommend a detailed response to decrease and eventually eliminate the issue of untested sexual assault kits. The role of IDVSA includes facilitating partnership meetings as well as planning and conducting interviews with victims, victim advocates, and other professionals to provide an understanding of the problem.
IDVSA will utilize action research techniques such as interactive inquire process by conducting focus groups and discussions with law enforcement, crime lab specialists, and other stakeholders who are knowledgeable about the process of testing sexual assault kits. An evaluation tool will be developed to track the effectiveness of a model that aims to increase victim engagement with the criminal justice system. To do so, we will conduct an evaluation of a new victim liaison model and efforts to enhance networks of support for victims through collaboration with HPD Victim Services and HAWC victim advocates. In addition, we will create a victim notification “how-to” guide to be used by other jurisdictions about trauma-informed protocols around victim notification.
We are reviewing 50 SAK cases (from the project’s larger sample of 500) to better understand and inform policies and procedures related to SAK evidence collection, screening, and testing. An economic analysis of the costs associated with all aspects and implications of testing unrequested, backlogged SAKs will also be performed, so as to assist other jurisdictions with determining what resources may be needed to effectively reduce their backlogs. IDVSA will assist project partners with project efforts aimed at improving and enhancing the training and specialization of law enforcement (e.g., responding officers and investigators).