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Connecting the Dots: Identifying Suspected Serial Sexual Offenders Through Forensic DNA Evidence.

NCJ Number
Psychology of Violence Volume: 10 Issue: 3 Dated: 2020 Pages: 255-267
Date Published
13 pages

This study examined the forensic DNA testing results from a large sample of sexual assault kits (SAKs) from Detroit, Michigan (N = 7,287).


Most sexual assaults that are reported to the criminal justice system will not be prosecuted. Researchers and policymakers have expressed concern that this long-standing practice allows offenders to commit additional sexual assaults. Determining whether reported sex offenders commit other sexual assaults requires establishing reliable linkages between two (or more) cases. Typically, criminal history records are used to identify repeat sexual offenders, but biological evidence in sexual assault kits (SAKs; also termed rape kits) provides another way to study how often reported sexual offenders commit additional sexual assaults by linking DNA across multiple cases to the same perpetrator. The current study assessed how many SAKs yielded a DNA match to a reference sample in the federal criminal database CODIS (Combined DNA Index System). Researchers then ascertained whether the matching case was related to another sexual assault incident documented by state criminal history records. Approximately one-third (35.7 percent) of the unique perpetrators in this sample had two or more sexual assaults linked via DNA, which is higher than what is typically documented in recidivism studies using court records (8–15 percent). Three case studies are presented to highlight how forensic DNA evidence can link multiple sexual assaults to the same perpetrator. The study concluded that forensic DNA testing of SAKs reveals a more complete picture of the scope of offenders’ sexual perpetration behaviors than what is documented in criminal history records alone. (publisher abstract modified)

Date Published: January 1, 2020