This research study presents the findings of the Sexual Assault Kit Backlog Project, a project funded by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and executed by the California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA) to examine the issue of untested sexual assault kits (SAKs) in the city and county of Los Angeles.
Although law enforcement and hospitals have improved and expanded procedures to gather SAK evidence, scientific resources and procedures to test such evidence have not kept pace, and the resulting backlog of untested SAKs has become a major problem throughout the United States. In 2008, the untested SAKs in the city and county of Los Angeles reached 10,895. A study to document reasons for these untested kits found a number of organizational and resource deficiencies. Primarily, they were not the result of crime laboratory backlogs, but were untested due to the fact that investigators and prosecutors had not requested that they be tested. In 2009, the city and county law enforcement agencies announced that all backlogged kits would be tested. The untested sexual assault kit problem in Los Angeles, coupled with the fact that agencies had decided to test all such kits for the presence of DNA evidence, presented a unique research opportunity. The Sexual Assault Kit Backlog Project at CSULA, funded by the NIJ in 2009, was to accomplish four primary objectives: 1) evaluate the results of scientific tests performed by private laboratories on backlogged SAK evidence from the LASD and LAPD crime laboratories, 2) review the sexual assault case processing literature and the role played by evidence and other factors in solving and prosecuting such cases; 3) determine the criminal justice dispositions of a sample of backlogged and non-backlogged cases before and after kit testing; and 4) identify principal case and evidence characteristics that could be used by forensic laboratories to evaluate and prioritize sexual assault evidence submitted to crime laboratories. The accomplishment of these goals would aid all law enforcement agencies and crime laboratories about the value of testing backlogged SAKs and set guidelines for processing such evidence in the future.
Date Published: March 1, 2012