Research community extending impact of initiatives to manage backlogs of sexual assault kits

April 24, 2019

ANN ARBOR – A $38 million investment to help clear a multi-state backlog of sexual assault kits is still producing results.

In a report released in March, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office said the rape kit testing initiative it funded had been responsible for the testing of over 55,000 backlogged sexual assault kits across the country. Originally taken from international banks in New York in the form of civil asset forfeiture, the money was divided among 32 jurisdictions in 20 states, and was inspired by New York’s own push to eliminate backlogged sexual assault kits almost two decades ago. The Manhattan DA-funded project is part of a continuing movement to reduce the backlog of untested sexual assault kits. The data from two other such projects, both funded by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), are archived at ICPSR.

In The Detroit Sexual Assault Kit Action Research Project (ICPSR 35632), researchers assessed nearly 1,600 sexual assault kits in police custody in Detroit. The purpose of this research was to conduct a census of all sexual assault kits in Detroit police custody, determine the underlying reasons for the large number of untested kits, and develop a quick and cost-effective plan for testing the kits. In the Los Angeles, California Sexual Assault Kit Backlog Study (ICPSR 33841), researchers focused on evaluating the results of sexual assault kit testing done by private laboratories and identifying characteristics that would allow laboratories to assess evidence and prioritize sexual assault kit testing in the future. As evidence by the awards granted to these researchers, NIJ is committed to funding research projects aimed at managing, tracking, and testing sexual assault kit evidence.

In the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office’s report on findings from the Sexual Assault Kit Backlog Elimination Grant Program, District Attorney Vance Jr. said that while violent crime is at a historic low, the number of sexual assaults reported to police is increasing, partially due to the advent of the #MeToo movement.

With the likely increase in sexual assault kits that would go hand-in-hand with increased sexual assault reporting, it’s a critical time for law enforcement agencies, researchers, and activists to continue the important work they’re doing to end the backlog.

Since their release on the ICPSR website, The Detroit Sexual Assault Kit Action Research Project (ICPSR 35632) and the Los Angeles Sexual Assault Kit Backlog Study (ICPSR 33841) have been downloaded over 1,000 times by nearly 350 users. Readers can peruse ICPSR’s Bibliography of Data-Related Literature for more information on how researchers have used these data thus far.

For additional reading:

Test Every Kit: Results From the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office’s Sexual Assault Kit Backlog Elimination Grant Program

The Detroit Sexual Assault Kit Action Research Project: 1980-2009 (ICPSR 35632): Data-related Publications

Sexual Assault Kit Backlog Study, Los Angeles, California, 1982-2010 (ICPSR 33841): Data-related Publications

The National Institute of Justice’s Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence-Inventory, Tracking, and Reporting Program Grant Program: Current Awards and 2019 Award Solicitation

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By Nathan Kujacznski, Chelsea Samples-Steele, and Dory Knight-Ingram

Special thanks to Elizabeth Moss and Sarah Burchart on the ICPSR bibliography team for their contributions to this report.