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What happens when sexual assault kits go untested? A focal concerns analysis of suspect identification and police pre-arrest decisions

NCJ Number
Journal of Criminal Justice Volume: 76 Dated: September–October 2021
Date Published
October 2021

Using data collected from a sample of cases associated with untested sexual assault kits (SAKs), this study used focal concerns theory – a framework that identifies themes relevant to criminal justice practitioners' decision-making processes – to assess the correlates of suspect identification and officers' pre-arrest decision to present a case to prosecutors.


The study estimated two logistic regression models. The first model examined the ability of investigators to identify a suspect in the full sample (N = 444). The second model examined officers' decision to present cases to the prosecutor in a subsample of cases in which a suspect was identified (N = 293). The study found that the odds of suspect identification increased when victims cooperated with investigators and witnesses were available and decreased in stranger cases and when victim credibility concerns were present in police reports. Cases were more likely to be presented to a prosecutor when victims cooperated with police, witnesses were available, suspects confessed to the crime, and suspects had a history of arrest. The study recommends that researchers continue to examine pre-arrest investigative actions to inform policy and training aimed at improving  victim engagement and reducing case attrition. In addition, SAKs should be tested to aid investigators in identifying suspects in stranger cases. (publisher abstract modified)

Date Published: October 1, 2021