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An evaluation of Kentucky’s sexual assault investigator training: results from a randomized three-group experiment

Abstract

Objectives

This study evaluated a 40-h statewide sexual assault investigations training program implemented in Kentucky in 2017. The study examined short- and long-term effects of training on police officers’ self-reported rape myth acceptance, knowledge of state laws, and knowledge of trauma-informed practices.

Methods

Using a randomized design to control for pre-test sensitization, we assigned training courses to three groups: Group A (pre- and post-training assessment), Group B (post-training only assessment), and Group C (pre-training only assessment). Mean scores for rape myth acceptance, knowledge of state laws, and trauma-informed practices were compared using t tests to assess differences between Group A’s pre- and post-test scores, as well as differences between Groups B’s post-test and C’s pre-test scores. OLS models were estimated to assess the effects of training between treatment (Groups A and B) and control (Group C) groups. Follow-up assessments were sent to participants to examine long-term training effects on all outcome variables.

Results

Findings indicated that training was effective in reducing rape myth acceptance and increasing knowledge of state laws and knowledge of trauma-informed practices. These effects remained stable over time, evidenced by analyses of data from follow-up assessments. Finally, the pre-test did not have a priming effect on any outcome variables.

Conclusions

This study found that sexual assault training can be effective at improving police perceptions of victims, and knowledge of laws and trauma-informed practices for sexual assault investigations. Additionally, this study provided evidence that three-group experimental designs are feasible for evaluating law enforcement training programs.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Specifically, Senate Bill 63 mandated that agencies with less than five officers send at least one officer to the training, agencies with five to 29 officers send at least two officers, and agencies with 30 or more officers send at least four officers to the training.

  2. 2.

    As of January 2019, there were 392 police agencies in Kentucky. This number includes state, county, municipal, and special (e.g., University, School District, Airport, etc.) police agencies. Agencies were not required to follow selection criteria (e.g., investigative experience, rank) when deciding which officers participated in the program. As such, we were unable to determine how agencies selected officers to attend the training.

  3. 3.

    For more information on the KYDOCJT course curriculum, please contact the KYDOCJT at DOCJT.ExternalCommunication@ky.gov.

  4. 4.

    To account for potential case attrition between pre- and post-training assessments, we oversampled for Group A. As such, Group A comprised five randomly assigned KYDOCJT courses, while Groups B and C each comprised three randomly assigned classes. Additionally, because we could not randomize the number of officers in each course, the number of participants in Groups A, B, and C varied based on course size.

  5. 5.

    Multicollinearity diagnostics found intercorrelation between officer age and years in policing. Because prior research has found that experience in policing is correlated with less victim blame among officers (see Rich and Seffrin 2012), we retained years in policing and excluded officer age in our multivariate analyses.

  6. 6.

    Balance tests were also conducted for agency size (count variable) and agency type (categorical variable: non-urban = 0, urban = 1). Our analyses did not detect any significant differences between groups for agency size (M = 90.2, F = 1.878, p > 0.05) or agency type (M = 0.24, F = 1.745, p > 0.05).

  7. 7.

    To calculate Cohen’s d, or standardized mean difference effect sizes for each of our analyses, we used Wilson’s Practical Meta-Analysis Effect Size Calculator (found here https://campbellcollaboration.org/research-resources/effect-size-calculator.html). Based on Cohen’s (1992) recommendations for interpreting the magnitude of d, 0.2 is interpreted as a small effect, 0.5 is considered a medium effect, and 0.8 is interpreted as a large effect. For our multivariate models, we also present Cohen’s U3 (Cohen 1988) for our training variable, calculated using Magnusson’s (2014) tool for interpreting Cohen’s d effect size (found here https://rpsychologist.com/d3/cohend/). Cohen’s U3 is a formula that calculates the percentage of treatment group members whose scores exceed the mean score of the control group.

  8. 8.

    To ensure that respondents to our follow-up survey did not differ from the full sample, we conducted balance tests on six demographic variables (gender, age, years in law enforcement, highest level of education, any prior sexual assault training, and number of sexual assault reports investigated in the last year) using t tests. No significant differences were detected, indicating that our follow-up assessment group is comparable to the full sample. These results are available upon request.

  9. 9.

    Scale reliability for each of the dependent variables remained strong in the follow-up data. Reliability and eigenvalues for each dependent variable in the follow-up sample were: (1) IRMA-SF: Chronbach’s alpha = 0.763, Eigenvalue = 3.714; (2) KY LAWs: Chronbach’s alpha = 0.478, Eigenvalue = 1.315; and (3) KTIP: Chronbach’s alpha = 0.724, Eigenvalue = 2.280.

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Acknowledgments

The authors would like to thank James Root, Instructor for the KYDOCJT’s Sexual Assault Investigations course, for his input and assistance facilitating this evaluation. The authors also thank Frank Kubala and John Schwartz from the KYDOCJT, Eileen Recktenwald from the KASAP, and Gretchen Hunt from the KY OAG for their helpful insights on the survey instrument. Finally, the authors thank the officers in the KYDOCJT training program for their participation in this study.

Funding information

This project was financially supported by the KY Office of the Attorney General (Award No. PON2 040 17000010472) and the US Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (Award No. 2017-AK-BX-0009).

Author information

Correspondence to Bradley A. Campbell.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

This project was approved by the University of Louisville’s Institutional Review Board.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all participants included in this study.

Disclaimer

The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the KY Office of the Attorney General or the US Department of Justice.

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Appendices

Appendix 1: KYDOCJT sexual assault investigation training modules and time allocated

Module Hours
1. Orientation 1
2. KY sexual assault laws 2
3. Cultural myths and misconceptions 1
4. Victim impact 2
5. Model law enforcement response to sexual assault 3
6. Coordinated community response to sexual assault 4
7. Law and investigative strategy 4
8. Meeting the needs of special communities 1.5
9. DNA evidence and issues 3
10. Offender dynamics 4
11. The preliminary investigation 4
12. Victim interview 3
13. Unfounded cases 3
14. Course critique 0.5
15. Outside assignments 4
Total 40

Appendix 2: List of items included in each outcome variable

Illinois rape myth acceptance scale-short form (Likert scale 1 = strongly disagree through 6 = strongly agree)
1. If a woman is raped while she is drunk, she is at least somewhat responsible for letting things get out of control.
2. Although most women wouldn’t admit it, they generally find being physically forced into sex a real “turn-on.”
3. If a woman is willing to “make out” with a guy, then it’s no big deal if he goes a little further and has sex.
4. Many women secretly desire to be raped.
5. If a woman doesn’t physically fight back, you can’t really say that it was rape.
6. Men from nice middle-class homes almost never rape.
7. Rape accusations are often used as a way of getting back at men.
8. It is usually women who dress suggestively that are raped.
9. If the rapist doesn’t have a weapon, you really can’t call it rape.
10. Rape is unlikely to happen in the woman’s own familiar neighborhood.
11. Women tend to exaggerate how much rape affects them.
12. A lot of women lead a man on and then they cry rape.
13. A woman who “teases” men deserves anything that might happen.
14. When women are raped, it is often because of the way they said “no” was ambiguous.
15. Men don’t usually intend to force sex on a woman but sometimes they get too sexually carried away.
16. A woman who dresses in skimpy clothes should not be surprised if a man tries to force her to have sex.
17. Rape happens when a man’s sex drive gets out of control.
Knowledge of Kentucky sexual assault laws (Likert scale 1 = strongly disagree through 6 = strongly agree)
1. In Kentucky, law enforcement must collect a rape kit from a victim, even if the victim does not want to report the crime to the police.
2. Kentucky law requires that the police must collect a rape kit from a hospital within 24 h.
Knowledge of trauma-informed practices (Likert scale 1 = strongly disagree through 6 = strongly agree)
1. If a victim says they felt paralyzed during a sexual assault, it is a sign the victim experienced a “freeze” response during the incident.
2. When interviewing victims of sexual assault, it is important to show compassion and build rapport with the victim.
3. Victim advocates are important actors in helping a victim through the investigation process.
4. It is important to avoid interrupting victims when interviewing them about the incident.

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Campbell, B.A., Lapsey, D.S. & Wells, W. An evaluation of Kentucky’s sexual assault investigator training: results from a randomized three-group experiment. J Exp Criminol (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11292-019-09391-0

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Keywords

  • Trauma-informed response
  • Randomized experiment
  • Training evaluation
  • Police
  • Sexual assault investigation