Master Category Sexual Assault Reform
Report Series Date
The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) is committed in their efforts to support scientific advancement, evidence-based practices, and community awareness of our Nation’s sexual assault response. As NIJ’s Director, Dr. David B. Muhlhausen, indicated, “our nation’s forensic laboratories have the ability to find and test smaller and smaller amounts of crucial evidence and get quality results for cases that years ago would have been unattainable” . NIJ’s numerous sexual assault response resources, including the National Best Practices for Sexual Assault Kits: A Multidisciplinary Approach, are summarized in this NIJ Director’s Message [1, 2].
Sexual assault remains prevalent in the United States, with an average of 300,000 cases reported to law enforcement each year . However, another 600,000 go unreported . The circumstances of and trauma resulting from a sexual assault can pose a challenge to investigators. For example, witnesses are not always present; the impact of trauma or incapacitating substances, such as alcohol, may affect the victim’s ability to recount details of the incident; and frequently, corroborating evidence is limited.
DNA evidence, while valuable, is not always probative or present in every case: many DNA samples do not meet the quality standards required to be uploaded into CODIS (38% of profiles were found to be ineligible as noted from recent NIJ-supported research ). Even in cases where a DNA profile is present and is CODIS-eligible, a CODIS hit occurs only about half of the time . Additionally, a DNA profile may provide limited probative value in situations where sexual contact is not disputed. Thus, many types of additional physical evidence play a critical role in the investigation and prosecution of sexual assault cases.
Physical evidence collection, submission, and analysis can be an effective and necessary means of reconstructing at least some of the events that occurred during a sexual assault. Physical evidence provides value to investigations even if a DNA profile is developed and probative, as it can be used to corroborate and supplement a greater understanding of the circumstance and make a stronger case. This three-part Beyond DNA In-Brief series highlights types of physical evidence that can provide crucial information about a sexual assault, so that key stakeholders in the criminal justice community ultimately obtain just resolutions for these crimes.
Click here to read Beyond DNA: The Role of Physical Evidence in Sexual Assault Investigations
“Based on our findings, jurors were more likely to find a defendant guilty than not guilty even without scientific evidence if the victim or other witnesses testified, except in the case of rape.” —Honorable Donald E. Shelton,The ‘CSI Effect’: Does It Really Exist?, National Institute of Justice (NIJ)
Click here to read Beyond DNA: The Role of Biological Evidence in Sexual Assault Investigations
“Sexual assault evidence should be evaluated holistically. The identification of the type of biological fluid may further substantiate and clarify how events took place.” -Dr. Patricia Melton, RTI International
Click here to read Beyond DNA: The Impact of Toxicological Evidence in Sexual Assault Investigations
“Because of the effects that CNS depressants can have on memory and the subsequent reporting of suspected DFSA by potential victims, the true prevalence of this crime may never be fully realized.” – Marc LeBeau, FBI Laboratory
The NIJ and the FTCoE provide resources for sexual assault response, including:
• The National Institute of Justice’s National Best Practices for Sexual Assault Practices: A Multidisciplinary Approach provides 35 recommendations to improve evidence collection and tracking procedures, investigative considerations, communication strategies, and more.
• The Forensic Technology Center of Excellence (FTCoE) published a comprehensive report on current knowledge and best practices for sexual assault response teams, including considerations for evidence collection.
• The Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI) provides resources on these issues, including insight for cold cases where DNA may not be dispositive.
• The NIJ introduces the value of physical evidence in Sexual Assault Cases: Exploring the Importance of Non-DNA Forensic Evidence. The NIJ has also published a variety of resources around sexual assault response
• The FTCoE has collaborated with the Center for Nursing Excellence (CFNEI) to develop an online sexual violence glossary to standardize language amongst medical, law enforcement, and legal professionals.
1. Muhlhausen D.B. (2018, April). Director’s Corner: Responding to Sexual Assaults. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice. Retrieved from
2. National Institute of Justice. (2017, August 8, 2017). National Best Practices for Sexual Assault Kits: A Multidisciplinary Approach. NCJ 250384. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice. Retrieved from: https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/250384.pdf .
3. Morgan, R. E., & Kena, G. (2017, December). Criminal victimization, 2016. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics. Retrieved from https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/cv16.pdf
4. Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. (2018). The criminal justice system: Statistics. Retrieved from https://www.rainn.org/statistics/criminal-justice-system
5. Waltke, H., LaPorte, G., Weiss, D., Schwarting, D., Nguyen, M., & Scott, F. (2017). Sexual Assault Cases: Exploring the Importance of Non-DNA Forensic Evidence. National Institute of Justice Journal, 279.
The goal of this report is to provide the reader with a basic understanding of alternate light sources (ALS), as well as their use, benefits, and limitations. The information contained herein is derived from current literature and interviews with both users and technology developers, providing a thorough assessment of the considerations that will impact procurement, training, and use of ALS. This report also contains product tables highlighting the variety of ALS devices available for purchase.
Click here to read the full report
At the request of the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), the Forensic Technology Center of Excellence (FTCoE) coordinated a comprehensive Federal effort to organize and transfer knowledge and best practices of sexual assault nurse examiners, sexual assault forensic examiners, and collaborative sexual assault response teams (SANE/SAFE/SART). This FTCoE effort focused on systemic challenges that impede the investigation of criminal sexual assaults in the United States, with goals that include creating an awareness of resources and ensuring that existing research, information, knowledge, and best practices are available and accessible to SANE/SAFE/SART and other practitioners who contribute to the nation’s response to sexual assault. NIJ has an extensive record of successfully coordinating with stakeholders to develop best practices in various facets of sexual assault investigations. Such input from stakeholders has been, and will continue to be, instrumental in addressing the challenges associated with untested sexual assault kits stored as evidence in the United States.
To accomplish this effort, the FTCoE conducted four key tasks:
Task 1: Assess the status of SANE/SAFE/SART education and best practices | Jan-May 2014
In order to meet the proposed objectives of this project, the project team conducted a literature review of current trends and practices within the SANE/SAFE/SART community when conducting sexual assault investigations. Although the review was very comprehensive, it was not intended to be exhaustive; rather, the objective of the literature review was to identify key emerging technologies, techniques, and trends. After conducting the literature review and vetting the key findings with the project’s four consultants, the following four focus areas were identified as the most emerging topics with training and knowledge transfer gaps:
Task 2: Federal Stakeholder Meeting | May 14, 2014
The FTCoE convened a federal stakeholder meeting entitled, “Organizing and Transferring SANE/SAFE/SART Knowledge and Best Practices” at the RTI International location in Washington, DC. This meeting brought together various individuals from federal agencies which are dedicated to the development, advancement and implementation of practices and policies which primarily address the response to sexual assault in the nation. The primary objectives of these discussions were to conduct an educational assessment of SANE/SAFE/SART training programs in order to gather input on identified disparities in knowledge transfer, research, training and policies. Click here to view the archived content.
Task 3: Practitioner Stakeholder Meeting | July 14, 2014
The FTCoE convened a practitioner stakeholder meeting entitled, “Organizing and Transferring SANE/SAFE/SART Knowledge and Best Practices” at the RTI International located in Research Triangle Park, NC. This meeting brought together sexual assault response researchers, practitioners and stakeholders from across the nation to develop a landscape analysis of the best practices in sexual assault response and training curricula. The primary objectives of these discussions were to create awareness of the availability of proven best practices, to identify areas which lack a best practice in order to initiate the development of a best practice to further establish a system of outreach, dissemination, education and knowledge transfer of best practices for the response to sexual assaults. Click here to view the archived content.
Task 4: Policy and Practices Forum | September 18, 2014
This forum focused on emerging techniques and developments associated with evidence collection training; evidence analysis utilizing Y-STR capabilities; victim-centric care approaches (e.g., understanding the neurobiology of the victim in sexual assault; the emerging practice of telehealth); and key factors that are essential to policy change. Forum presentations discussed development of best practices for resolving issues related to sexual assault, and will showcase emerging technologies associated with the collection and analysis of sexual assault evidence. Forum presenters included researchers, practitioners, and stakeholders who are thoroughly involved in the development and implementation of policies that address these topics. Click here to view the archived content.
Click here to read the final report on this effort.
Patricia Speck, DNSc, APRN, FNP-BC, DF-IAFN, FAAFS, FAAN
University of Alabama, Birmingham, School of Nursing in the Department of Family, Community and Health-Systems
Eileen Allen, MSN, RN, FN- CSA, SANE-A, SANE-P
Office of the Monmouth County (NJ) Prosecutor, SANE Program Coordination
Diana Faugno MSN, RN, CPN, SANE-A, SANE-P, FAAFS, DF-IAFN
Eisenhower Medical Center, and Barbara Sinatra Children’s Center
L. Kathleen Sekula, PhD
RTI International Staff
Jeri Ropero Miller, PhD, F-ABFT
Center for Forensic Sciences
Patricia Melton, PhD
Center for Forensic Sciences
Crystal Daye, MPA
Center for Justice Safety and Resilience
Education and Workforce Development Group
Various researchers, Federal stakeholders, and practitioners from the SANE/SAFE/SART community.
At the request of the National Institute of Justice, the Forensic Technology Center of Excellence (FTCoE) leads a comprehensive federal effort to organize and transfer knowledge and best practices of sexual assault nurse examiners, sexual assault forensic examiners, and collaborative sexual assault response teams (SANE/SAFE/SART). This FTCoE effort focuses on systemic challenges that impede the investigation of criminal sexual assaults in the United States, with goals that include creating an awareness of resources and ensuring that existing research, information, knowledge, and best practices are available and accessible to SANE/SAFE/SART and other practitioners who contribute to the nation’s response to sexual assault. This report presents recommendations and strategies which were derived from a three phase process including; a comprehensive literature review, a Federal stakeholder meeting, and a sexual assault practitioner stakeholder meeting and presented in a policy forum.