Project Background

Closeup portrait, young scientist in white labcoat and blue nitrile latex gloves doing experiments in lab, academic sector. Research and developmentIn recent years, it has been discovered in Detroit, Cleveland, and elsewhere that there are large numbers of sexual assault kits sitting untested in law enforcement evidence rooms. While no official count exists, experts estimate that there are hundreds of thousands of untested kits nationwide. Law enforcement agencies have often used discretion in sending SAKs to laboratories for testing due to cost, which can be nearly $1,000 per kit. Many law enforcement officials also believe that testing is not likely to yield useful results in cases when victims and suspects were acquainted, cases in which suspects have already admitted guilt, and cases in which victims have chosen not move forward with prosecution.

Victim advocates have maintained that all kits should be tested, since testing can yield useful results in most circumstances. For example, in cases where the suspect argues that sex was consensual, submitting a SAK for DNA analysis could link the suspect’s DNA to other sexual assault crime scenes, and thus reveal the suspect as a serial rapist. Through federally funded initiatives submitting untested SAKs in Detroit and Cleveland, officials have found hundreds of cases in which DNA from untested kits was linked to DNA from other cases in the CODIS database.

Texas has been at the forefront of the national effort to improve the collection and analysis of SAKs. In 2011, Texas became the second state to enact a law requiring law enforcement agencies to determine how many SAKs were in their inventory that had not been processed, and to submit any involved with “an active criminal case” for testing by April 1, 2012. The law, authored by former Texas State Senator Wendy Davis, also mandated that all sexual assault kits going forward must be sent to a crime lab for testing. Learn more about SB1636
In 2013, Texas passed a second major reform law, also authored by Sen. Davis. This law requires all hospitals in the state to have trained, certified staff available to collect sexual assault kit evidence. Learn more about SB1191

By lsbthnavarro via Wikimedia CommonsOver the past two years, the Police Foundation, in partnership with the National Center for Victims of Crime and the Joyful Heart Foundation, has conducted research evaluating the impact of these new regulations across Texas. With the generous support of the Communities Foundation of Texas, we are conducting two studies measuring the effects of each of these laws on the accessibility, collection, and testing of SAKs in the state. (Expected completion January 31, 2017.)