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Action Research to Enhance Investigations and Prosecutions of Sexual Assaults in Houston

Award Information

Award #
Congressional District
Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2011, $178,076)

The grantee will conduct Phase I of a two phase Action Research Project examining the problem of untested Sexual Assault Kits (SAK) in the Houston Police Department (HPD) property room. The Houston Police Department is currently storing approximately 16,000 sexual assault kits in the property room. It has not been determined whether these SAKs should be tested based on investigative characteristics of the case. Action research will be conducted to help identify 1) factors inhibiting the number of sexual assault kits forwarded to the Houston Police Department Crime Lab for analysis and 2) factors that undermine the effective use of forensic evidence in sexual assault cases. A Task Force comprised of the following members will examine this issue: HPD's Special Crimes, Homicide, and Crime Laboratory Divisions, the Harris County District Attorney's Office, the Houston Area Women's Center, Sam Houston State University, and the University of Texas at Austin.


The Phase 2 project proposes to continue studying the nature of unsubmitted rape kits, understanding the role that rape kit evidence plays in the investigation and prosecution of sexual assaults, and documenting the results of testing rape kits that have not previously been screened and tested. The main purposes of Phase 2 are to implement strategies derived from the Phase 1 research and to evaluate the results of those strategies. The Phase 2 project will accomplish 3 goals:
1. Complete the research work started in Phase 1, which will be used to identify a feasible plan to screen, test, and utilize evidence contained in rape kits that have not been submitted for forensic testing.
2. Implement the strategies identified under Goal #1.
3. Evaluate the implementation and outcomes of the strategies.

The selection and implementation of feasible responses will occur in the second phase of the project in Houston. During Phase 1 the project advisory board has been discussing possible strategies based on the knowledge that is accumulating through project meetings and data collection. This process will be finalized during Phase 2. Project Phase 2 will entail the selection of response strategies 1) that will ensure a backlog of unsubmitted rape kits that are suitable for testing will not accumulate in the future; 2) for screening and testing the existing set of rape kits that have not previously been submitted for testing; 3) for determining whether and how rape kit test results can be used to advance active investigations or open inactive sexual cases for investigation and prosecution; and 4) that are victim-centered. Finally, the proposed Phase 2 project will assess the implementation and results of responses strategies. In achieving this goal the project will generate practical knowledge about strengths and weaknesses of the strategies. This knowledge will not only aid agencies in Houston as they refine their procedures, it will also have the ability to inform sites around the country as they wrestle with overcoming challenges in their jurisdictions.

The Houston Sexual Assault Action Research Project has completed Phase I tasks and is currently implementing Phase II of the project. The supplement will enhance and extend Phase II activities in then following areas:
o Enhance cost-benefit analysis of testing the SAKs
o Implement and evaluate investigation and prosecution activities related to Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) hits stemming from the project
o Implement and evaluate victim notification protocols and procedures
o Develop research-to-practice tools on conducting audits of untested SAKs and victim notification procedures
o Enhance evaluation and research activities, particularly in the areas of victim notification procedures and training for law enforcement officers and detectives working with sexual assault victims
o Enhance dissemination of findings, specifically to practitioner audiences for whom the findings will be most relevant and useful
o Travel to an on-site cluster meeting with NIJ and Wayne County team

The goals for Phase II in Houston are (1) to complete the research work started in Phase I, which will be used to identify a feasible plan to screen, test, and use evidence contained in SAKs that have not been submitted for forensic testing; (2) to implement the strategies finalized in Goal 1 above; and (3) to evaluate the implementation and outcomes of the strategies. For example, based on findings in the first part of the project, the team has determined that law enforcement may need additional training to assist their decision making in terms of sending SAKs forward to the laboratory for testing. So the team is going to implement enhanced training for responding officers and investigators. nca/ncf

Date Created: March 21, 2011