An Impact Assessment of Recent Texas Laws to Strengthen Investigation and Prosecution of Sexual Assault Cases

Project Purpose/Goal:

A law authored by former Texas State Senator Wendy Davis in 2011 required Texas law enforcement agencies to determine how many sexual assault kits had not been processed, and to submit any involved with “an active criminal case” for testing by April 1, 2012. Another recent Texas law requires all hospitals to have trained certified staff available to take sexual assault kit evidence.  The Police Foundation is leading an examination and review of the impact of Texas laws requiring law enforcement agencies to test all Sexual Assault Kits and requiring hospitals to have trained certified staff available to collect sexual assault samples.

The project’s objective is to determine whether the new laws are increasing the rates of reporting of sexual assault cases, and whether the rates of arrests, prosecutions and convictions have increased. The Police Foundation will assess the impact of the laws in four jurisdictions: Fort Worth, Austin, Dallas and Arlington. In addition to examining whether the new laws have impacted the reporting and resolution of sexual assault cases, the project will review whether they have strained resources in the four agencies in order to deal with the increased caseload. It will also survey officers and hospital workers to see if the new state emphasis has led to changes in attitudes toward dealing with alleged sexual assaults.

 

Approach, Results and Implications:

Our research will therefore examine the experiences of four cities in Texas (Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin and Arlington) that each have had different experiences with implementing the universal testing law.  To examine the impact of the new SAK certification statute, we will identify several rural hospitals that have had a poor record of providing medical forensic exams to determine if the new statute has significantly changed their capabilities to collect evidence in sexual assault cases.

We plan to use a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods at both state and local levels to assess the impacts of SB1636 and SB1191.  At the state level, we plan to collect data from the Department of Public Safety and state DNA laboratory trends over time in criminal justice indicators (arrests, prosecutions, and convictions), state lab workloads and efficiency, and number of serial rapists identified.  At the local level, we plan to collect descriptive statistics on sexual assault case characteristics and criminal justice system outcomes, including arrests, charge filings, and convictions.  We plan to examine data on trends in the number of SANE examinations administered in the four target cities and differences in the quality of SAKs submitted to the laboratory by SANE and non-SANE trained emergency room staff.  We plan to supplement the quantitative data with interviews with sexual assault detectives, victim advocates, SANE nurses, and emergency room administrators in order to understand patterns identified through quantitative analyses.

 

Funding & Collaboration:

The funder for the project is the Communities Foundation of Texas. The Police Foundation will be supported in this project by the National Center for Victims of Crime, a non-profit organization that advocates for victims’ rights, provides training and serves as a source of information on victims’ issues: and the Joyful Heart Association, a leading advocacy organization working toward nationwide rape kit reform and ending the untested rape kit backlog.

 

Point of Contact:

Robert C. Davis
Chief Social Scientist
(202) 833-1460
rdavis@policefoundation.org

 

Keywords:

Police services, funding cuts, international police, cost reduction strategies

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