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A New Approach to Utilizing Evidence from Sexual Assault Kits in Texas: Benefits and Costs of a Universal Testing Statute

Award Information

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

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2016, $235,794)

Sexual violence in the U.S. remains pervasive, harming individual victims and, collectively, society. These harms include higher rates of substance abuse for victims, lower levels of employment, lower levels of educational attainment, higher levels of depression, and higher suicide rates. Reducing sexual violence has become a national priority.

Sexual assault victims are routinely encouraged to get a sexual assault medical forensic examination to preserve evidence of the offense. Evidence is collected through use of sexual assault forensic evidence kits, commonly referred to as sexual assault kits (SAKs). There is good reason to believe that competently collected SAK evidence is associated with positive criminal justice system outcomes. However, despite increased collection of forensic evidence and a growing understanding of its importance, many SAKs across the country go untested.

In 2011, Texas enacted legislation mandating universal testing of SAKs – Texas Bill 1636. The Police Foundation is currently evaluating the impact of this bill, using a combination of quantitative and qualitative methodologies to examine trends in criminal justice indicators, state lab workloads and efficiency, the number of serial rapists identified, sexual assault case characteristics, and criminal justice system outcomes. An emerging finding is that SAK testing requirements can place significant resource strains on detectives, prosecutors, and victim advocates. Funding for this study expires January 31, 2017. While preliminary findings are informative, the law’s full impact will not yet be fully realized; it is estimated that DNA testing of backlogged SAKs will just be coming to completion as funding ends, prohibiting an examination of the full impact of the testing on criminal justice indicators and outcomes.

The Police Foundation requests funding to continue the Texas study. Funding will support a longer-term examination of the Texas bill, looking at impacts after all results from DNA testing of backlogged SAKs are entered into the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) for suspect identification. NIJ funding will allow us to answer the following questions: 1) What percentage of SAK DNA findings result in the identification of serial rapists, and/or result in further police investigation, prosecution, and conviction? 2) What factors present cases with identified suspects from being successfully prosecuted? 3) What is the level of burden that the Texas law has placed on police, prosecutors, and laboratory staff? and 4) What are the costs per successful prosecution? If funded, this would be by far the largest study to date of criminal justice outcomes stemming from CODIS hits. ca/ncf

Date Created: September 15, 2016