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What's Hiding in the Text? Analyzing Sexual Assault Police Narratives for "Signaling"

NCJ Number
Date Published
57 pages

This conference presentation discussed what the presenters have learned about writing better rape reports, overlooked aspects of report writing, barriers to police report analysis, how information from the presenters’ research can be leveraged to transform policies and practices in police report writing, and key research findings.


The presenters of this research report were Dr. Rachel Lovell and Joanna Klingenstein; the research behind this presentation originated from years of reading sexual assault police reports through Bureau of Justice Assistance-funded Sexual Assault Kit Initiative. Dr. Lovell’s team, in their research, noticed that police reports containing little investigative work or statements about a victim’s credibility were tied to the cases that stopped short of prosecutorial action. To address this issue, Dr. Lovell and her team investigated the content of those police reports through the use of creative technological methods such as machine learning and sentiment analysis. This presentation discussed the results of that research; what the team learned about what computers can teach people about writing better rape reports, and what it means for law enforcement moving forward. Through this presentation, the presenters sought to do the following: describe reasons why narrative text in police reports is an important but also a dreaded task for officers; identify barriers in police report writing, particularly for sexual assault survivors; describe ways to analyze textual data for both research and practice; and recognize ways that practices around report writing within the criminal justice system can improve victim response.

Date Published: January 1, 2023