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Nursing professor Julie Valentine reveals low sexual assault kit processing numbers, trains law enforcement with encouraging results

Two years ago, in a well-publicized study, BYU nursing professor Julie Valentine looked at 270 rape cases in Salt Lake County that took place between 2003 and 2011.

She found just six percent of those cases led to prosecution.

Finding a Solution

Today, in a press conference in West Valley City, the city's police department released the results of an unprecedented effort, where they worked with Valentine to train the department on the impact trauma has on sexual assult victims. That led to implementing new protocols, meant to ensure compassionate treatment and support for sexual assault victims.

The results of Valentine's work with West Valley City showed that sexual assault prosecution jumped from six percent to 24 percent.

“Traditionally, law enforcement has not had training in how to interview victims of trauma,” Valentine said. “They’re used to interviewing suspects.”

Valentine began her work with the West Valley City Police in 2014, helping shape what's now called the Trauma Informed Victim Interview. The new protocol took into account the effect of trauma on a victim's memory and behavior. With that impact in mind, investigators conducting the interviews were able to be more successful and comprehensive, when compared to interviews gathered with previous investigative techniques. Valentine also conducted a survey with the victims and found high levels if satisfaction. Valentine also analyzed te data regarding screening and prosecution rates, showing drastic increases in the number of sexual assault cases prosecuted. 

  Before Study During Study

Screening of Adult Sexual Assault Cases

33% 68%

Declination Rate

75%

56%

Charges Filed

9%

32%

Prosecuted

6%

24%

According to Valentine, there are already plans to expand the study to other law enforcement agencies and prosecutors' offices. Funding is still waiting to be secured. West Valley City detective Jusin Boardman and Utah Prosecution Council's Donna Kelly have already been teaching the protocol to multiple sites across Utah.

Finding a Problem

A major reason for the startlingly low prosecution rate in the past has been the backlog of sexual assault kits, often referred to as rape kits, which law enforcement collects when working with a victim and includes DNA evidence.

In a press conference at BYU on April 7, the results of Valentine’s study were released, looking at the processing of 1874 sexual assault kits in seven Utah counties between 2010 and 2013. This is the most comprehensive study ever conducted on sexual assault kits in Utah.

Findings include:

  • Within a year of the assaults that took place, only 22.8 percent of the sexual assault kits were submitted by law enforcement to the state crime laboratory for analysis.
  • An additional 15.4 percent were submitted in late 2014 through 2015, following community and media pressure for law enforcement to submit kits in storage.
  • A total of 62 percent of SAKs were found not submitted, and they either remain in law enforcement custody, have recently been submitted or have been destroyed.

A look at the breakdown by counties studied:

Sexual assault kit submissions per site based on the length of time submitted from assault date to submission date

 

Salt Lake County

Washington County

Iron 
County

Northern Utah Counties*

All of Utah

Submitted within 1 month of assault

 

16.0%

 

0.8%

 

14.6%

 

4.9%

 

12.6%

Submitted
1-12 months after assault

6.6%

3.3%

22.9%

22.7%

10.2%

Submitted 1 year or later after assault

18.0%

14.2%

2.1%

8.6%

15.4%

Total Submitted

40.6%

18.3%

39.6%

36.2%

38.2%

Total Not Submitted

59.4%

81.7%

60.4%

63.8%

61.8%

*Northern Utah Counties include Weber, Davis, Morgan and Box Elder Counties.

All of the sexual assault kits included in the study were from victims who wanted to participate in prosecution of the rape crime. Also, sexual assault nurse examiners collected the evidence for all kits used in the study, indicating a high caliber of DNA evidence collection.

“Utah has had higher rates of rape than the national average since 1991 as tracked in the FBI Uniform Crime Reports,” Valentine said. “This study raises concerns that the low criminal justice system response to rape in Utah has failed to identify and prosecute rapists. Multiple studies have found that some rapists identified through DNA analysis of sexual assault kits are serial rapists. If sexual assault kits are not submitted for analysis, serial rapists cannot be identified, resulting in concerns over public safety in Utah for the violent crime of rape.”

Studies of similar methodology in other areas of the United States have found sexual assault kit submission rates of approximately 60 percent, a major difference from Valentine’s finding of 22.8 percent in Utah.

More to Come

Valentine is on the front lines of trying to fix this problem. This past fall she secured more than $3 million in grants from groups such as the Bureau of Justice Assistance and the New York District Attorney’s Office.

“Securing this funding not only addresses the processing of these kits, but also allows us to create programs, and specifically a computerized tracking system, so that this backlog of kits will never happen again in the future,” Valentine said.

Ultimately, it’s Valentine’s hope that these findings in her studies can support standardized sexual assault kit submission through a state law that would mandate submission of all sexual assault kits.

Julie Valentine's slides from the BYU press conference.

Writer: Jon McBride