The Dollars and Sense of Sexual Assault Kit Testing

Just as the issues of rape, sexual assault and violence against women bring mixed reactions throughout society and much of law enforcement, so too does the ongoing push to test sexual assault kits that have set untested on shelves, some for decades.

Although the exact number is unknown, it is estimated that about 400,000 sexual assault kits have set in police department inventories or laboratories throughout the United States untested, for one reason or another, from the lack of funding to run the tests to inadequate guidelines for law enforcement regarding when a sexual assault kit should be used and when it should be analyzed to lack of training for law enforcement about trauma, sex offenders and their patterns and more, the reasons — or excuses — are many.

However, as the National Institute of Justice and others currently working to address the backlog of untested sexual assault kits explain, it is now more important to proactively address causative issues than it is to look to the past in order to assign blame. The entire system requires a turn-around in thinking, policies and procedures to make it victim-centered – or as many prefer it to be termed – survivor-centered.

Not everyone is convinced of the value to testing the backlog of hundreds of thousands of sexual assault kits – often referred to as “rape kits” – to society as a whole, nor even to the regular ongoing testing of each individual sexual assault kit now obtained. Perhaps for those people, it all comes down to “dollars and sense.”

The Dollars and Sense of Sexual Assault Kit Testing

In Ohio, Cuyahoga County has been working its way through more than 5,000 sexual assault kits, resulting thus far in more than 250 convictions, the work of the Cuyahoga County Sexual Assault Kit Task Force. In turn, the Task Force has been sharing the wealth of information it’s obtained through this testing with the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences at Case Western Reserve University, specifically, the Begun Center for Violence Prevention Research and Education within the Mandel School.

The systematic review of the data obtained through the testing of thousands of sexual assault kits is aiding the Begun Center to share evidence-based information to academics, law enforcement and society by learning how rapists and those who commit sexual assaults operate. No longer will investigative techniques need to be based solely on theory. Data obtained not only in Cuyahoga County but in areas across the United States have shown and will continue to yield the cold, hard facts of sexual assault.

One fact has already caused law enforcement to sit up and take notice: Serial rapists are much more common than previously considered, but back to that in a moment.

The dollars spent on testing sexual assault kits versus dollars saved by doing so: In Cuyahoga County, it has cost $950/test; in other areas of the nation, the cost per test can reach $1,500. However, the cost of each test versus the estimated $200,000 worth of pain, suffering, medical expenses, wages lost due to injury, and lower quality of life that is saved when a future rape or sexual assault is prevented can be easily seen to be cost effective.

The Begun Center has determined that even with the almost $10 million cost of testing the backlogged sexual assault kits, Northeast Ohio has netted savings of over $38 million, along with 1,290 indictments and 947 convictions.

The “sense” of sexual assault kit testing: If for no other reason than preventing future sexual assaults or rapes, the testing of backlogged sexual assault kit has proven itself a success. It is humbling to consider how many women might have been spared a sexual assault or rape had timely sexual assault kit testing been done throughout the years.

The Begun Center has thus far studied 243 sexual assault cases, 51 percent of which “were tied to serial offenders, who generally have more extensive and violent criminal histories than one-time sexual offenders.”

Among one-time sexual offenders, 51 percent had a felony arrest prior to the sexual offense; 78 percent had at least one felony arrest after the sexual offense.

Among serial sexual offenders, 74 percent had a felony arrest prior to the sexual offense; 95 percent had at least one felony arrest after the sexual offense.

Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty has said, “These are one-man crime waves. And now that we realize this, we cannot allow these kits to sit on shelves untested in the future. They hold the keys to identifying and convicting dangerous criminals.”

It’s a pity that committing a sexual assault alone, as each sexual assault kit represents, had not been of enough importance or value to the community that the perpetrators were already considered to be “dangerous criminals” worth identifying and bringing to justice, but that’s a conversation for another day.


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