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Changing the Criminal Justice System Response to Sexual Assault: An Empirical Study of a Participatory Action Research Project

NCJ Number
American Journal of Community Psychology Dated: 2020
R. Campbell; et al
Date Published

This article reports on a root-cause analysis that examined the individual, organizational, community, and societal factors contributing to the development of the rape kit backlog in Detroit, Michigan, after that city discovered approximately 11,000 forensically untested sexual assault kits (SAKs) in a police department storage facility.


Based on the findings, the project then implemented and evaluated structural changes that increased staffing, promoted rape kit forensic testing, and retrained police and prosecutors for the reopening of the cases for investigation and prosecution. During this project, there was an evaluation of how this action-research project impacted the Detroit criminal justice system. The evaluation found that participating in this project changed stakeholders’ attitudes about the utility of research in addressing community problems, the usefulness of DNA evidence in sexual assault cases, and the impact of trauma on rape survivors. The results led to new protocols for sexual assault kit (SAK) testing and police investigations, as well as new state legislation mandating SAK forensic DNA testing. (publisher abstract modified)