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The Bureaucratic Burden of Identifying your Rapist and Remaining “Cooperative”: What the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative Tells us about Sexual Assault Case Attrition and Outcomes

Abstract

We analyzed a large sample of sexual assaults over almost two decades in one urban U.S. jurisdiction with previously untested sexual assault kits that were initially not successfully adjudicated (n = 717). We explored patterns of attrition through descriptive statistics and predictors of attrition through continuation-ratio modeling. Findings provide a more comprehensive framework for examining attrition, exploring the bureaucratic burden placed on victims to identify who sexually assaulted them and to remain engaged in an often harmful process and system. Implications suggest this burden could be eased via increased trauma-informed victim support and protocols and increased use of forensic evidence.

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Notes

  1. We coded in waves based on sequential grant awards. Wave 1 and 2 include all SAK cases that, as of August 2015, had either been indicted or closed due to insufficient evidence by the Task Force (n = 428). Wave 3 includes a random sample of SAK cases (n = 293) that, from September 2015 to September 2016, had either been indicted or closed due to insufficient evidence—capturing more currently investigated cases by the Task Force.

  2. We should note that with these incident reports, “date of the report” is actually the date the report was typed up, not necessarily the date the report was actually made; however, most reports were typed up either the same day or the next.

  3. Previous research on a pilot sample these data suggests that it is likely that at least some portion of these cases had some form of investigative follow up that was not contained in the files available to us and/or were not complete administrative files. However, we could only code what was provided to us according to our sampling frame.

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Acknowledgments

We first want to thank all of the survivors, who inadvertently shared with us their stories of intimate trauma. We’ve read your stories and promise to do our best to make sure they no longer remain shelved. We would also like to thank the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office and the Task Force for inviting us to sit at your table. Without your support, this project would not have happened. Thanks to all members of the research team for your hard work and dedication, Rachel Dissell for the numerous framing conversations, our SAK research colleagues and collaborators, and the anonymous reviewers who provided helpful feedback.

Funding

This work was supported in part by the Bureau of Justice Assistance under Grant Nos. 2015-AK-BX-K009, 2016-AK-BX-K016, and 2018-AK-BX-0001 and a pilot research grant from the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office. The Bureau of Justice Assistance is a component of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs, which also includes the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the National Institute of Justice, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, the Office for Victims of Crime, and the SMART Office. Points of view or opinions in this document are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

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Correspondence to Rachel Lovell.

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Lovell, R., Overman, L., Huang, D. et al. The Bureaucratic Burden of Identifying your Rapist and Remaining “Cooperative”: What the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative Tells us about Sexual Assault Case Attrition and Outcomes. Am J Crim Just 46, 528–553 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12103-020-09573-x

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Keywords

  • Sexual assault
  • Case attrition
  • Case outcome
  • Sexual assault kit
  • Rape kit
  • Bureaucratic burden