Examining a Social Injustice: Why Are Some Rape Kits Never Submitted to a Crime Laboratory?
Method: Adult sexual assault case records from a focal sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) program were included in this study if the victim reported to law enforcement and received a medical forensic exam (N=244). The dependent variable (SAK submission) was obtained by the state crime lab. Independent variables included victim age, ethnicity, alcohol or drug consumption, anogenital and physical injury, victim-offender relationship, if the victim was unconscious, and post-assault actions (bathing). For the independent variables, de-identified copies of SANE program records were obtained and coded by multiple coders. Coding was consistently monitored to maintain reliability of kappa >.80. Level of engagement between law enforcement and the SANE program, defined as an active relationship of ongoing case consultation and collaboration (e.g., cross-training), was also examined through key informant interviews. Binary logistic regression was used to determine what factors predict SAK submission.
Results: This study found that only 58.6% of the SAKs were submitted to the crime lab. Kits were significantly as likely to be submitted when there were documented physical injuries compared to kits that did not have documented physical injuries. In addition, kits that were handled by a law enforcement agency that had a high level of engagement with the SANE program were significantly as likely to be submitted as law enforcement agencies with a low or medium level of engagement. Kits were significantly less likely to be submitted when victims cleaned themselves after the sexual assault.
Conclusions and Implications: This study has several practice implications for SAK submission. First, the decision to submit SAKs should be evaluated by multiple system personnel (e.g., supervisor, prosecutor, crime lab) instead of relying on a single investigator. Second, victims agree to have a medical forensic exam because they believe it will aid in holding the assailant accountable. Therefore, a victim may feel betrayed if the SAK is not submitted. To prevent this sense of betrayal, the medical forensic examiners, crime lab, and law enforcement should have a consistent protocol on the eligibility for the medical forensic exam and SAK submission. The authors will elaborate on these implications for research and practice.