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Evaluation of a Victim-Centered, Trauma-Informed Victim Notification Protocol for Untested Sexual Assault Kits.

Campbell, R., Shaw, J., & Fehler-Cabral, G. (2018).

Violence Against Women, 24(4), 379 – 400.


Hundreds of thousands of sexual assault kits have not been submitted by the police for forensic testing which raises issues regarding how victims ought to be notified about what happened to their kits. This study evaluated a victim notification protocol that was implemented in one city.

Expanded Abstract:

Sexual assault victims who seek post-assault medical care are often advised to have a sexual assault kit (SAK) to preserve forensic evidence of the crime (Department of Justice, 2013). A SAK (also termed a “rape kit”) requires collecting oral, anal, vaginal, and body surface swabs for semen, blood, saliva, hair, and other trace evidence, which can be analyzed for DNA. It is an arduous, retraumatizing experiences for rape survivors (Campbell, 2008), but one they endure in hope that the evidence will be used by police and prosecutors to hold perpetrators accountable (Martin, 2005; Parnis & DuMont, 2006; Patterson & Campbell, 2010). However, recent media stories and social science studies suggest that at least 200,000 rape kits have never been submitted by the police for forensic DNA testing. Instead, they were shelved in police property, untouched and forgotten for years (Campbell, Feeney, Fehler-Cabral, Shaw, & Horsford, 2017; Human Rights Watch, 2009, 2010; Strom & Hickman, 2010). Strom and Hickman (2010) argued that when rape kits are not tested, “justice [is] denied” (p. 382) because there is no opportunity for the DNA within those kits to help investigate and prosecute perpetrators or to exonerate those who have been wrongly accused. In this project, a victim-centered, trauma-informed victim notification protocol that was implemented in Detroit, Michigan was evaluated. Most survivors (64%) who were contacted decided that they would like to have a follow-up meeting with investigators and a community-based advocate to consider whether they wanted to reengage with the criminal justice system, and in the end, most victims (57%) decided that they did want to participate in the reinvestigation and possible prosecution of their cases. Most victims (84%) did not have a strong negative emotional reaction to notification, and most (57%) decided to reengage with the criminal justice system. Victims of stranger sexual assaults were more likely to reengage post-notification compared with victims of non-stranger rape. This is consistent with prior research indicating that victims who knew their offenders are less likely to engage with the criminal justice system (see Chen & Ullman, 2010).