Dissemination and Impact Amplified: How a Researcher–Reporter Collaboration Helped Improve the Criminal Justice Response to Victims With Untested Sexual Assault Kits

AuthorRachel Dissell,Rachel E. Lovell
Date01 May 2021
Published date01 May 2021
Subject MatterArticles
Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice
2021, Vol. 37(2) 257 –275
© The Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1043986221999880
Dissemination and Impact
Amplified: How a Researcher–
Reporter Collaboration
Helped Improve the Criminal
Justice Response to Victims
With Untested Sexual Assault
Rachel E. Lovell1 and Rachel Dissell2
We present a case study of a researcher–reporter collaboration that formed from
an initiative to address thousands of previously untested rape kits in one Midwestern
(U.S.) jurisdiction. We explore this symbiotic partnership by examining (a) how and
why it formed; (b) the outcomes, including extensive and public dissemination and
a unique project that surveyed 294 Ohio law enforcement agencies to see what
happened after the rape kits were tested (Ohio Rape Kit Survey Project); and (c)
the impact that the partnership, dissemination, and larger initiative had in sparking
demonstrable change in how the justice system and the general public responded to
and engaged with the issue of untested rape kits and with victims of sexual assault.
We conclude with larger takeaways from this collaboration for researchers and
reporters but also provide a framework for how this type of collaboration can be
leveraged to produce change for the greater good.
researcher, reporter, collaboration, sexual assault kit, rape kit, rape, sexual assault,
sexual assault kit initiative
1Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH, USA
2Freelance Investigative Journalist, OH, USA
Corresponding Author:
Rachel E. Lovell, Begun Center for Violence Prevention Research and Education, Jack, Joseph and Morton
Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences, Case Western Reserve University, 10900 Euclid Avenue,
Cleveland, OH 44106, USA.
Email: Rachel.Lovell@case.edu
999880CCJXXX10.1177/1043986221999880Journal of Contemporary Criminal JusticeLovell and Dissell
258 Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice 37(2)
Nationwide, an estimated 300,000 to 400,000 untested sexual assault kits (SAKs)—
also known as rape kits—have languished for decades in evidence storage facilities
(Strom et al., 2021). SAKs or kits are items (e.g., fingernail scrapings, vaginal swabs)
collected by medical professionals to preserve evidence from a victim of sexual assault
for possible investigation and prosecution (Campbell et al., 2005).
For this special issue on connecting research, policy, and advocacy to improve jus-
tice, we detail a different type of researcher–practitioner relationship—one between an
applied academic researcher and an investigative reporter specializing in sexual
assault, trauma, and policy change. The partnership detailed here formed from an ini-
tiative to address thousands of previously untested rape kits in one Midwestern
Collaborations between researchers and reporters most often involve either a
reporter reaching out to a researcher to serve as a topical expert or provide ideas for
stories or a researcher reaching out to a reporter to get media coverage for a recently
published study. The interactions are often transactional and brief, ending if and when
the story is published or aired.
However, researchers and reporters have a great deal in common. They share the
goal of disseminating what they have learned and employ similar information gather-
ing methods, including interviewing key subjects/stakeholders and collecting and ana-
lyzing data. However, the way that reporters and researchers digest and disseminate
information is often far different. Reporters often move more swiftly, aiming to distill
and share key facts with a general audience that includes citizens but can also include
policy and lawmakers. Researchers tend to move much less swiftly, aiming to distill
and share key findings with specialized audiences—mostly other researchers—but can
also include practitioners and policymakers. Despite their differences, researchers and
reporters can have more than a brief, transactional relationship. When fostered, the
relationship can be symbiotic—where there is a cross-learning of each other’s craft
and where dissemination and impact are amplified for the greater good.
This article explores the contours of a successfully navigated, long-standing
researcher–reporter collaboration by examining three key aspects. First, we examine
how and why our informal partnership formed and what it entailed. It began organi-
cally when we—two women from different disciplines who also happen to have the
same first name—sat next to each other at weekly meetings where investigations and
prosecutions for active cases with untested rape kits were discussed by a task force that
was following up on the testing of thousands of rape kits. The meetings, which included
investigators, prosecutors, and victim advocates, were not often open to researchers—
and certainly not journalists. After these meetings, “the Rachels” (as we were often
referred to) had frequent conversations about these cases, attempting to detect patterns
or glean whether there were larger questions to be asked/tested or data to be collected
from these “cold” rape cases that were being re-examined by new, fresh-eyed investi-
gators and prosecutors.
Second, we detail the outcomes of our collaboration, namely, broad and public dis-
semination. We provide examples of what we were learning and disseminating—at
times, dispelling some common myths about rapists. Our conversations at these

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