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Down the Road - Testing Evidence in Sexual Assaults

NCJ Number
Date Published
June 2016
40 pages

This report discusses the results of and draws lessons from recent research supported by the U.S. Justice Department's National Institute of Justice (NIJ), which examined the management of sexual assault cases, notably the processing of evidence collected in sexual assault kits (SAKs), many of which were found in large backlogs awaiting laboratory testing.


The focus of this report is on the findings and implications of this research, which was conducted at law enforcement agencies in Detroit, MI, and Houston, TX. Over the course of these 4-year projects, the multidisciplinary teams contributed to changes in the management of sexual assault cases in these different cities. The changes are outlined in this report. Issues discussed are how to perform a census of previously untested SAKs, reasons why these agencies had so many previously untested SAKs, how to prioritize the testing of backlogged SAKs, and the handling of cases in which the DNA found in SAK testing led to the identification of a suspect through a CODIS match. Another issue discussed is whether to test all or only some of the backlogged untested SAKs. The report summarizes positions regarding the testing of older SAKs. Victim notification of what is occurring with backlogged SAKs is also discussed as a major issue in the Houston and Detroit studies. The report concludes with a discussion of lessons for other jurisdictions based on the Detroit and Houston studies. Appendixes discuss how forensic science research and development improves justice in sexual assault cases, increasing the Nation's capacity to test DNA evidence, and using social science to improve the Nation's response to sexual assault.

Date Published: June 1, 2016