Webinar: Taking on the Challenges of Unsubmitted Sexual Assault Kits

Crossword puzzle highlighting the word webiner, with descriptive words of what can be learned.

Fri, Oct 31, 2014
10:00am - 12:00pm
Hazel B. Kerper Courtroom

The College of Criminal Justice will offer a chance to view a national webinar for law enforcement professionals and criminal justice students on how to meet the challenges posed by untested rape kits in police evidence rooms.

Dr. Bill Wells
Dr. Bill Wells
Across the nation, many departments are grappling with what to do with the large numbers of sexual assault kits that were never submitted to a crime lab for examination. Police departments and prosecutors’ officers also face the challenge of notifying victims and working on large numbers of cases after kit testing is complete. To help address the issue, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) funded two research projects nationwide – in Houston and Detroit -- to develop solutions to the problems.

Dr. Bill Wells, the lead researcher in Houston, will be among the panelists discussing the lessons learned – and steps taken – to improve sexual assault investigations in the fourth largest city in the country.

The free online webinar, “Taking on the Challenge of Unsubmitted Sexual Assault Kits,” will be presented by the Ash Center at the Harvard Kennedy School of Democratic Governance and Innovation. The webinar also can be viewed offsite by registering with the Ash Center . Dr. Wells will be available in the Courtroom following the presentation to answer audience questions.

Detective processing DNA swab.The webinar will discuss the challenges facing police departments in these cases and innovative solutions to address the complex issues involved. Among the issues addressed are how to conduct an audit of cases, how to triage and process the testing of kits, when and how to notify victims, and how to make policy and practice changes that prevent backlogs and enhance justice for victims.
The Houston and Detroit projects used a multi-disciplinary approach, enlisting representatives from groups involved in the criminal justice process, including police, prosecutors, medical professionals, victim support agencies, and researchers.

In Houston, the research has led to changes in the investigation of sexual assault cases. Among the programs adopted were a hotline for sexual assault victims to check on their cases, a justice advocate to serve as a bridge between sexual assault survivors and investigators, additional resources and training for law enforcement officers investigating cases, and support services through the Houston Area Women’s Center and by Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners.

Sad woman grasps hands of a counselor.“When you talk about a response to this, you need to think holistically and think about what’s going to happen in terms of a system response,” said Dr. Wells. “This is what we were able to do in Houston.”
The webinar will be moderated by Bethany Backes, a Social Science Analyst with National Institute of Justice (NIJ). Among the other panelists will be:

  • Rebecca Campbell, PhD, Michigan State University
  • Noel Busch-Armendariz, PhD, University of Texas at Austin
  • Mary Lentschke, Assistant Chief, Houston Police Department

The program is co-sponsored by the NIJ and the Government Innovators Network is available here

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