Untested Sexual Assault Kits: Searching for an Empirical Foundation to Guide Forensic Case Processing Decisions
The processing of sexual assault forensic evidence is a challenging, if not frustrating, issue for victims and victim advocates, the forensic community, and the larger criminal justice system. Untested sexual assault kits (SAKs) in law enforcement custody (also referred to as unsubmitted SAKs) and backlogged SAKs in crime laboratories result in delays in the justice process and, in some instances, the denial of justice for survivors of sexual assault (Hickman and Strom, 2014; Strom and Hickman, 2010). Media coverage of jurisdictions having large volumes of untested sexual assault kits has fueled concerns about the legitimacy of the justice system response for crime victims, supported by numerous accounts of evidence that sat untested beyond relevant statutes of limitations (e.g., Los Angeles, CA; see Hickman and Strom, 2014; Peterson, Johnson, Herz, Graziano, and Oehler, 2012; Ritter, 2013). And although cities such as Detroit (MI), Cleveland (OH), Houston (TX), and Los Angeles (CA) have uncovered large numbers of untested SAKs, midsized and more rural areas have also struggled with this problem.