Sexual Assault Evidence: An Action Research Project

NIJ has awarded competitive research grants to examine the issue of untested evidence in sexual assaults. The awards went to Wayne County, Michigan, and the city of Houston, Texas. Attorney General Eric Holder made the announcement at the April 8 National Crime Victims' Service Awards Recognition Ceremony.

The research will help determine why many sexual assault kits are not sent by police departments to the crime lab for testing. Teams from the two jurisdictions include criminal justice researchers and representatives from the police department, crime lab, prosecutor's office and community-based victim services organizations.

Learn more about the research and research competition:

About the Action Research Project

The awards represent Phase 1 of the National Institute of Justice's action-research study into previously untested evidence in sexual assault cases. Wayne County, Mich., will receive $200,000 and the city of Houston, Texas, will receive $176,000. Researchers at Sam Houston State University and the University of Texas at Austin are partnering with Houston; researchers from Michigan State University are partnering with Wayne County.

In Phase I, the planning phase of the project, the two jurisdictions will conduct an inventory and review of untested sexual assault kits (SAKs), which were found in police department evidence rooms and had not been previously tested by the crime laboratories. In Phase II of the project, the two jurisdictions will implement and evaluate strategies to address the multi-faceted issues surrounding untested SAKs, including how best to notify victims.

"Action research" is a method in which researchers engage in an active partnership with practitioner agencies to solve a problem. The research partner plays a key role in identifying the problem and analyzing the data, working with the practitioner agency to develop intervention strategies to target the problem. The practitioner agency implements the strategies, and the researchers monitor the progress and provide feedback to better refine the approach. Finally, the researchers conduct an assessment of the implementation of the strategies and the impacts they had.

Some of the research questions that will be examined in the NIJ-funded action research project on untested evidence in sexual assaults include:

  • Should all sexual assault kits be tested?
  • Is a triage method more effective?
  • How should victims be notified when their case is reopened after many years?
  • What kind of training should law enforcement receive to make the best decisions about sending SAKs to the crime lab?

The goal of the project is to produce transportable lessons and strategies to help other jurisdictions that discover untested SAKs in police evidence rooms which have not been sent to a crime lab for analysis.

Date Modified: April 8, 2011