Houston Sexual Assault Kit Action Research

In 2011, the Institute on Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault (IDVSA) with colleagues from Sam Houston State University and the Houston Police Department (HPD) received funding for an action research project to address the issue of untested sexual assault kits (SAKs) in Houston, TX. Stakeholders who represent research, crime lab, law enforcement, prosecution, forensic nursing, and advocacy formed the Houston Sexual Assault Kit Action Research Working Group. As part of the action research model, researchers worked with these partners to understand the issue, develop and implement strategies to produce change, and evaluate the results. HPD determined that 6,663 untested SAKs were stored in the property room. On average, untested SAKs were stored for five to seven years, with the oldest untested SAK collected in 1982. With city funding assistance, HPD committed to test all untested SAKs, to review all connected cases, and to further investigate cases as necessary.

Research goals were to understand the variables and conditions that led to HPD’s inventory of untested SAKs; reduce the untested inventory; and ultimately improve law enforcement response to sexual assault victims. IDVSA researchers sought to give voice to victims, identify their needs in the investigation process, and determine the best way and timing for the response system to re-contact them if tested SAKs generated a match in the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), a national database that contains DNA samples from convicted offenders

Reports are available for download here:

  • How to Notify Victims about Sexual Assault Kit Evidence: Insight and Recommendations from Victims and Professionals (PDF)
  • Key Components of Building a Successful Victim Notification Protocol (PDF)
  • Does the Justice Advocate Position Enhance Sex Crimes Investigations? (PDF)
  • Sexual Assault Victims’ Experiences of Notification after a CODIS Hit (PDF)

This project was supported by the National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, and the United States Department of Justice (Award No. 2011-DNBX-0002), and the RGK Foundation. The opinions, findings, and conclusions expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the funders.

Additional project information and reports can be found at the project website: http://houstonsakresearch.org/