After a sexual assault, victims are typically encouraged to receive a medical forensic examination to collect a sexual assault evidence kit, commonly referred to as a sexual assault kit (SAK). Many victims are unable to access these examinations, as they are not performed at all hospitals.
Once collected, tested, and entered into the national DNA database, the evidence in SAKs can identify unknown offenders, link crimes together, and exonerate the wrongfully convicted. Despite this, experts estimate that hundreds of thousands of SAKs sit untested in law enforcement evidence rooms nationwide.
In Texas, legislators passed two major reform laws to address the problems of exam access and untested kits: SB1191 and SB1636. SB1191 requires all hospital emergency rooms to have staff trained in conducting forensic exams, while SB1636 requires all sexual assault kits in cases reported to law enforcement to be tested.
The Texas Sexual Assault Kit Evaluation Project is an evaluation of the impact and effectiveness of these two laws. Through interviews with key stakeholders, including sexual assault investigators, prosecutors, forensic analysts, rape crisis center advocates, Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners, and hospital administrators, we examine how the requirements of the laws have affected workloads of police, prosecutors, rape crisis centers, and hospitals across Texas.
• Interviews with ER administrators have indicated that, since the passage of SB1191, forensic exams have become more – not less – concentrated in hospitals with fully certified SANE staff. There is reluctance by police, prosecutors, and hospital staff to have forensic exams conducted at hospitals whose staff have minimal training and experience.
• One hundred fifty seven agencies out of more than 1,900 law enforcement agencies in the state have submitted previously untested pre-August 2011 sexual assault kits to DPS. Fortunately, compliance is high among the larger police agencies where most of the untested SAKs reside.
• SB1636 is having a major impact on the workloads of local and state DNA labs, less effect on police agencies, and (so far) minimal effect on district attorney workloads.