An Examination of Sexual Assault Kit Submission Efficiencies Among a Nationally Representative Sample of Law Enforcement Agencies

Date01 August 2020
Published date01 August 2020
Subject MatterArticles
Criminal Justice Policy Review
2020, Vol. 31(7) 1095 –1115
© The Author(s) 2019
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0887403419884730
An Examination of Sexual
Assault Kit Submission
Efficiencies Among a
Nationally Representative
Sample of Law Enforcement
Joshua A. Hendrix1, Kevin J. Strom1,
William J. Parish1, Patricia A. Melton1,
and Amanda Royal Young1
Drawing on results from a survey of 321 law enforcement agencies, we assess how
labor and capital inputs, evidence policies, and other agency characteristics affect
the number of sexual assault kits (SAKs) submitted to crime laboratories for testing.
We examine to what extent agencies are submitting the maximum number of SAKs
possible, given their available resources. Stochastic frontier models are used to
analyze the productivity of labor inputs for the submission of SAKs and the extent
to which resource inefficiencies contribute to unsubmitted SAKs. Results indicate
that agencies are submitting fewer than 60% of SAKs that are possible given their
resources. Full-time sworn officers were found to be productive inputs, as the
number of SAKs submitted increases by 24% for every 100% increase in the number
of officers. Findings also suggest that the accumulation of SAKs is driven partially by
technical inefficiencies but more so by a lack of resources.
sexual assault kits, rape kits, sexual assault victimization
1RTI International, Research Triangle Park, NC, USA
Corresponding Author:
Joshua A. Hendrix, Youth, Violence Prevention & Community Justice Program, Division for Applied
Justice Research, RTI International, 3040 E. Cornwallis Road, P.O. Box 12194, Research Triangle Park,
NC 27709, USA.
884730CJPXXX10.1177/0887403419884730Criminal Justice Policy ReviewHendrix et al.
1096 Criminal Justice Policy Review 31(7)
Over the past decade, an increasing amount of attention has focused on unsubmitted
sexual assault kits (SAKs) that accrue in law enforcement agencies. Many sexual
assaults are never reported to the police (Langton, Berzofsky, Krebs, & Smiley-
McDonald, 2012). However, when cases are reported, the criminal justice system is
expected to aggressively investigate and prosecute reported sexual assaults to deliver
justice for victims and also to demonstrate these crimes are treated with highest prior-
ity. Nevertheless, in some cases, justice may be delayed, in part because crime labora-
tories lack the capacity to process forensic evidence in a timely manner. In other cases,
justice can be denied because forensic evidence is never submitted to a laboratory for
analysis by the agency (Strom & Hickman, 2010).
Instances of justice denied are especially concerning, given the established benefits
of testing forensic evidence (R. Campbell, Patterson, Bybee, & Dworkin, 2009;
Johnson, Peterson, Sommers, & Baskin, 2012; Nelson, 2010; Peterson, Johnson, Herz,
Graziano, & Oehler, 2012; Randol & Sanders, 2015; Ritter, 2012b). Testing SAKs can
help identify previously unidentified offenders in unsolved crimes, corroborate identi-
ties in known offender assaults within and across cases, identify serial sexual offend-
ers, and exonerate individuals who have been wrongly accused (R. Campbell, Feeney,
Fehler-Cabral, Shaw, & Horsford, 2017). Studies have found that 50% to 60% of
SAKs contain biological evidence that does not belong to the victim (Ritter, 2011), and
the presence of forensic evidence is associated with an increased likelihood that arrests
are made and charges are filed (Horney & Spohn, 1996; Peterson, Sommers, Baskin,
& Johnson, 2010; but see Spohn & Tellis, 2012).
Law enforcement plays a critical role in either promoting or preventing justice for
victims of sexual assault. The law enforcement role includes not only the initial
response and interaction with the victim and investigative follow-up opportunities but
also the crime scene processing and SAK evidence collection and submission deci-
sions. However, little is known about whether and how the practices, policies, or char-
acteristics of agencies are associated with the handling of SAKs and their movement
through the system. Moreover, it is unclear to what extent agencies’ efforts to submit
SAKs for testing are hampered by technical inefficiencies (i.e., inefficient uses of
available resources), insufficient resources (e.g., too few staff members), or both.
The study of SAK processing efficiency in the criminal justice system is important
for several reasons. First, this type of analysis can help identify and contextualize the
factors that contribute to the backlog of unsubmitted SAKs that remain in law enforce-
ment custody. Second, and perhaps more importantly, it can identify and describe the
conditions that help agencies move kits effectively from collection to submission to
the crime laboratory. Ultimately, these results can help put state and local law enforce-
ment leaders and their partners in a position to successfully process SAKs through the
system in a timely manner and fully leverage the valuable evidence for investigating
and prosecuting these cases. It can also encourage law enforcement to implement the
resources, practices, and policies necessary to support and engage victims.
Drawing on results from a nationally representative survey of 321 law enforcement
agencies, we assess how labor and capital inputs, evidence policies, and other agency
characteristics affect the number of SAKs that agencies submit for testing. We also

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