Sexual Assault Audit & Technology Integration

Background

Approximately 20 million women, or 18% of the total United States population will experience rape over the course of their lifetime.1 This number does not include males or people who have experienced a form of sexual assault other than rape. Despite the high prevalence of sexual violence, it remains one of the most under-reported crimes. Only an estimated 16%-20% of sexual assault is reported to law enforcement.2 Like other types of crime, the cases that are reported experience attrition as they move through the criminal justice system. Some cases might not be passed on to prosecution by law enforcement, some might not be charged by prosecutors, and some charges may not result in a conviction. All of these factors contribute to an overall low rate of success for sexual assault cases in terms of criminal justice outcomes. This phenomenon can be seen all across the nation.

In recent years, an increasing amount of public attention has been placed on how the criminal justice system has handled sexual assault cases. Much of this interest has focused specifically on law enforcement agencies, stemming from questions about case classifications and the startlingly low number of sexual assault cases being fully investigated and referred for prosecution. This attention has followed discoveries based on audits or reviews of case files or allegations that sexual assault cases have been poorly or questionably handled. Frequently, these agencies become subject to intense scrutiny from the general public and government entities including the Department of Justice. This reactive process can severely impact department morale and public trust.

About the Project

Instead of seeing greater numbers of agencies fall subject to this set of circumstances, the Sexual Violence Justice Institute at the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault (SVJI @ MNCASA) and local law enforcement leaders were interested in exploring a more proactive approach. This alternate model would allow agencies to learn about their current response to sexual assault and identify ways to improve as part of their commitment to excellence. A proactive process may lead to information that could improve case outcomes and increase overall victim satisfaction. The Hastings Police Department stepped forward as a leader to engage in the learning process, agreeing to work with SVJI to study the nexus between sexual assault investigations, case file documentation, and case outcomes. 

The project has been broken down into two separate phases. The first phase is devoted to information gathering as a way to assess the current response to sexual assault cases. This includes hearing from members of the department, local prosecutors, sexual assault advocates, and victims who reported sexual assault to the department. Additionally, a review of department data, response policies, and sexual assault case files will identify current strengths and opportunities for improvement. This information will be used to inform the second phase of the project which is devoted to improving the response by supplementing the tools officers use in documenting sexual assault case investigations, helping move officers through the complex decision-making required in sexual assault investigations, and putting recommended best practices for investigation and report writing at their fingertips.

 


1Kilpatrick, D. G., Resnick, H. S., Ruggiero, K.J., Conoscenti, M. A., & McCauley, J. (2007). Drug-facilitated, incapacitated, and forcible rape: A national study. Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice. Retrieved from National Criminal Justice Reference Service website: https://www.ncjrs.gov/

2Lonsway, K. A. & Archambault, J. (2012). The "justice gap" for sexual assault cases: Future directions for research and reform. Violence Against Women, 18 (2), 145-168. doi:10.1177/1077801212440017

 

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