From the End Violence Against Women International Newsletter:
On January 17, the U.S. Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women released a critical position paper, offering guidance on the storage of evidence in a non-investigative sexual assault case. The need for this guidance was described by Principal Deputy Director, Dr. Bea Hanson:
Communities across the country are embarking on efforts to process untested sexual assault kits (SAKs) and pursue justice in the cases to which those kits are tied … [Yet] as professionals inside and outside the justice system work together to take inventory of SAKs, test the evidence they contain, follow investigative leads in the associated cases, and reach out to victims, they need to attempt to balance public safety and victim safety every step of the way.
Testing Without Victim Consent
In particular, concern is raised when jurisdictions follow a “test all kits” approach that does not take into account the fact that some victims have evidence collected during a medical forensic exam without making a decision to participate in the criminal justice process. This means they have not yet consented to having that evidence tested.
If that evidence is tested without victim consent, Dr. Hanson cautioned that this can “create barriers to obtaining medical forensic care and reporting sexual assault, ultimately undermining the very goals those policies are intended to achieve.”
OVW Position Paper
This is why OVW published a position paper on non-investigative reports and evidence testing. In it, they clearly state their position that this evidence should not be tested:
Submitting non-investigative SAKs to a forensic laboratory for testing, absent consent from the victim, should not be standard operating procedure for a law enforcement agency.
Policies and procedures that run counter to that position cannot be supported with OVW grant funds.
The OVW paper also briefly describes a number of alternative reporting options and offers links to resources that can help communities shape their approaches to dealing with untested SAKs. We encourage you to download a copy of this important document: Sexual Assault Kit Testing Initiatives and Non-Investigative Kits.
We also want to remind you of the other resources EVAWI offers on this topic, which is often referred to as “forensic compliance” because it stems from certain provisions in the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) relating to medical forensic examinations. For example, we offer two modules in our OnLine Training Institute (OLTI):
- Reporting Methods for Sexual Assault Cases, which explores various alternative reporting options, including non-investigative reporting.
- The Earthquake in Sexual Assault Response: Implementing VAWA Forensic Compliance. This module focuses specifically on the topic of forensic compliance and community implementation.
All OLTI training modules are available in our Resource Library. However, the online version in the actual OnLine Training Institute includes review exercises, practical applications, and test questions, after which participants can print a personalized certificate of completion.
Other documents and tools appear in a special section of our website dedicated to the topic of forensic compliance, as well as well as our online Resource Library. Several archived webinars also address issues related to VAWA forensic compliance and non-investigative reporting.
Focus on Victim Needs
We hope you find these resources helpful, as you work to increase victim access – without compromising privacy, safety, or self-determination.