Issue

Evidence from a sexual assault can be collected from survivors through a forensic medical examination. Specially trained medical professionals use sexual assault kits (SAKs) to collect evidence and record information obtained from the survivor at a medical facility. SAKs that contain evidence are then transported to a police property room storage facility. Crime laboratories can extract pieces of evidence from these SAKs for forensic screening and testing.

Survey data collected from police jurisdictions from across the nation over the past decade have revealed that large numbers of SAKs have been collected but were never submitted to a crime laboratory for testing. Little is known about how these volumes of unsubmitted SAKs were created or about the value these kits hold for solving sexual assault cases. Research is needed to answer these questions.

In 2011, the National Institute of Justice funded an action-research project in Houston, TX to begin answering some of these important questions and to launch responses that could solve these problems. Social psychologist Kurt Lewin is widely credited for developing this type of action research in the 1940's. Action-research generates valid information about problems and is used to design and implement solutions. This research model is based on the idea that it is critical to diagnose problems before rushing to implement solutions. This powerful research model entails close collaboration between many stakeholders, not only academic researchers. Through this collaboration, problems can be effectively addressed.

Resources:

Police Executive Research Forum (2012). Critical issues in policing series: Improving the police response to sexual assault. Washington, DC: Police Executive Research Forum. (pdf)

Ritter, N. (2011). The road ahead: Unanalyzed evidence in sexual assault cases. Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice. (pdf)