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This seventh episode of the season on Research and Considerations for Sexual Assault Cases as part of the National Institute of Justice’s (NIJ’s) Just Science podcast series is an interview with Dr. Rachel Lovell and Mary Weston, who discuss resolving partially tested sexual assault kits.
Background information for the interview notes that partially tested sexual assault kits (SAKs) create a unique barrier in the investigation and prosecution of sexual assault cases; however, re-opening these cases and conducting a comprehensive case review can produce positive results, even years later. Weston and Lovell led the effort to resolve partially tested SAKs in Cuyahoga County (Ohio). In the current interview, they discuss the challenges involved in processing partially tested SAKs, the importance of a comprehensive case review, and the value of regular contact with the forensic laboratory that analyzes SAK evidence. In the interview, they define a “partially tested” SAK as “samples in a sexual assault kit that have been tested for the presence of biological fluid, but not DNA.” An example of such a case is described in the interview. At the time of the initial lab testing of the SAK evidence in 2012, DNA testing was not performed, since DNA testing was done for the first time until 2017. Subsequent testing of the case revealed a male DNA profile suitable for entry into CODIS. A match was found to a serial rapist. Along with the existing evidence, the DNA evidence enabled prosecution that resulted in a guilty plea. Cuyahoga County has a working group of investigators, prosecutors, victim advocates, and lab representatives, which meets at least once a month to discuss cases and issues in case processing, including cases with partially tested SAKs.