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Using Science and Experience When Contacting Sexual Assault Victims

NCJ Number
Police Chief Volume: 83 Dated: January 2016 Pages: 36-38
Date Published
January 2016
3 pages
Based on the experiences of projects in Detroit, MI and Houston, TX that examined the management of backlogs of untested sexual assault kits, this article provides guidance on police notification of and interaction with the victims in such cases.
The thesis developed in this article is that notifying victims after testing their sexual assault kits is a sensitive task that can be better informed by the science and experience that shows victim-centered, trauma-informed approaches respect the victims' wishes, keep the victims safe, minimize re-traumatization, and support the victims' well-being. In both Detroit and Houston, the teams that managed the processing of the backlog of untested sexual assault kits created and tested victim-centered and trauma-informed protocols that all professionals in the criminal justice system can use to help minimize the trauma a victim experiences when receiving new information about a case. The protocols used at each of these sites is described in this article, so as to assist professionals in other cities in developing similar protocols in serving victims involved in cases delayed by the backlog of sexual assault kits that may contain evidence that has yet to be forensically examined. The multidisciplinary team in Detroit organized a planning retreat to explore issues in managing the backlog of untested sexual assault kits. Regarding victim notification, the team addressed when victims should be notified; who should make the initial contact with the victim and how; what information should be given to the victim during the initial contact; what should happen after that initial contact; and how the victim notification staff should be trained. The Houston team also weighed and assessed a range of scientific data on sexual assault victim re-traumatization and recommended a protocol that would be sensitive to the risks of victim re-traumatization.

Date Published: January 1, 2016