The idea is to identify patterns of offender behavior to
help the Akron Police Department respond to sexual assaults, said Rachel
Lovell, a research assistant professor with the university’s Begun Center
and the project’s lead researcher.
“By working with police, we can help change how sexual
assaults are handled in the criminal justice system and how the system and
society view sexual assaults, victims and offenders,” Lovell said.
Hundreds of thousands of SAKs, also known as “rape kits,”
have languished, untested in evidence storage facilities across the country. Medical
professionals use rape kits to collect and preserve evidence from a victim of
sexual assault, with the goal of taking rapists off the street.
There were 5,000 untested kits from 1993 through 2009 in Cuyahoga County alone. To date, the initiative has completed investigations on about two-thirds of the cases and has identified more than 830 serial sex offenders, resulting in more than 750 indictments.
Case Western Reserve’s research—available in a series of briefs—is based
on coding police and investigative reports, DNA lab reports and criminal
histories of victims and defendants.
Keeping the momentum going
testing helped paint a better picture of sexual offenders, thanks to
unprecedented access granted by the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office.
Known as the Cuyahoga County Sexual Assault Kit Task Force, the project was created by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2015 to use evidence from backlogged sexual assault kits to reform how law enforcement investigates cases.
Additionally, with two Department of Justice awards totaling
$528,000, Lovell’s team will continue its efforts in Cuyahoga County to collect
and analyze data from these sexual assaults. They’ll also study “owed DNA,” a
term used to describe instances of victims’ DNA that hasn’t been properly
entered into databases in accordance with Ohio law.
“It’s a big expansion of our work,” Lovell said. “We’re
working to not only code the remaining untested sexual assault kits, but to
inform and improve policy. We have a unique role here to help.”