Pathways to Justice: The Movement of Adult Female Sexual Assault Cases Across the Criminal Justice System
Methods: The project was a collaboration between the state’s Governor’s Commission on Domestic and Sexual Violence, practitioners from law enforcement, health care, advocacy, and university researchers. We developed a case tracking form for gathering data from law enforcement incident reports, prosecutors’ case files, and court records. Twelve communities were selected for the sample and we tracked 125 sexual assault cases and 119 residential burglary cases across the justice system. Initial selection criteria for eligibility in the study for sexual assault cases included gender (only female sexual assault victim cases were selected in which there was one male suspect), age (victims and suspects were at least 18 years of age at the time of the assault), and year in which the assault occurred (only cases perpetrated during 2008).
Results: Of the 125 sexual assault cases collected from law enforcement, 30% resulted in an arrest, and of those cases, charges were ultimately dropped by the prosecutor in 57% of the cases. Of the remaining 16 cases, 41% resulted in a plea agreement and 3% resulted in a conviction on the initial charge. Lastly, of the 125 cases of sexual assault reported to the police, 12.8% resulted in prosecution. Comparatively, of the 119 residential burglary cases, 44.5% ended in an arrest, which is significantly higher than the arrest rate for sexual assault. Charges were ultimately dropped by the prosecutor in 56.6% % of the cases. The prosecution rate for burglary was not significantly different from the sexual assault prosecution rate. Of the burglary cases that were prosecuted, 13% were convicted on the initial charge. A plea agreement was negotiated in the remaining 87% of cases prosecuted.
Implications: The data provide promising findings that may improve the criminal justice response to victims of sexual assault. We discuss the findings in a series of recommendations which call for a multidisciplinary approach to the problem of sexual assault case attrition. We present implications for social work practice and research.