Dr. Bill Wells discussed sexaul assault kit research on NIJ video.
Dr. Bill Wells of the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology at Sam Houston State University was recently featured in a National Institute of Justice (NIJ) video series on lessons learned from research into the nationwide problem of untested sexual assaults kits in police evidence rooms.
The videos, highlighting research projects funded by NIJ, report on findings of studies in Houston and Detroit which examined the causes of the problem and offered solutions to improve sexual assault investigations. Dr. Wells discussed the need for a holistic approach to the issue, which includes victims, police, prosecutors, victim advocates, and health care professionals. The creation of a new victim advocate position at the Houston Police Department is helping to provide high-quality services for victims and seeks to increase the chances victims will want to cooperate with investigators.
“When you talk about a response to this, you need to think holistically and what’s going to happen in terms of a system response,” said Dr. Wells, who collaborated with several stakeholders on the Houston project. “This is what we were able to do in Houston.”
An important lesson to come out of the project is that testing large numbers of previously untested sexual assault kits leads to significant workloads for investigators, prosecutors, and victim advocates. Jurisdictions must prepare to handle this workload.
The newly created victim advocate position in the Houston Police Department provides services for victims early on in new cases and works with victims in older cases, which is intended to result in better participation in the process. Over the last year, the advocate has contacted 250 sexual assault victims, many who were unlikely to receive similar services in the past. Investigators have reported “very positive results.”
In addition to Dr. Wells’ interview, the series includes three additional videos, including:
- Dr. Noel Busch-Armendariz of the University of Texas at Austin on how to notify sexual assault survivors when their sexual assault kits are tested and the establish- ment of a victim hotline at the Houston Police Department.
- Caitlin Sully of the University of Texas at Austin on how the action-research team in Houston went about making the action-research project in Houston as victim-oriented as possible.
- Dr. Rebecca Campbell of Michigan State University on the five common factors that led to unprocessed sexual assault kits in Detroit.