Today@Sam Article

SHSU Graduate To Lead Untested Rape Kit Study

March 9, 2017
SHSU Media Contact: Beth Kuhles

A Ph.D. graduate from Sam Houston State University is using skills he learned while at SHSU to lead one of the first statewide studies to examine a backlog of untested rape kits in Kentucky.

Bradley Campbell, assistant professor at the University of Louisville, will lead the Kentucky SAFE Kit Backlog Research Project. The study, funded by aBradleyCampbell competitive award of $50,000 from the Kentucky Office of the Attorney General, will investigate the cause of the backlog and identify data-driven, victim-centered responses to sexual assault cases.

“The state [Kentucky] wants to identify the root causes of the backlog so they can prevent it from happening again,” Campbell said. “The state is also looking for evidence-based, data-driven research on how to respond to sexual assault cases and assist in providing justice for victims.”

During his tenure at SHSU’s College of Criminal Justice, Campbell was part of the research team led by William Wells, chair of the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology, which conducted a similar study for the Houston Police Department, one of two projects funded by the National Institute of Justice nationwide. That study led to changes in the way the Houston Police Department investigates sex crimes, including the hiring of a victim advocate, training officers on the neurobiology of sexual assault, and testing of a sample of kits, resulting in hits linking offenders together through the CODIS database. Findings from the Houston project have helped shape responses to the problem of untested sexual assault kits across the country

“Dr. Campbell is in a unique position to work with the multidisciplinary team in Kentucky on this critical issue,” Wells said. “He has already drawn on his experiences with the Houston team and began to identify how research will help agencies in Kentucky respond to the problem of untested SAKs (sexual assault kits). Dr. Campbell is a skilled researcher who has the ability to work effectively with practitioners and ensure the research is useful to them.”  

During a 2015 audit, Kentucky discovered more than 3,300 untested sexual assault kits in the commonwealth. In response, Kentucky passed a law to address the backlog and implemented steps to improve sexual assault investigations. The law requires law enforcement agencies to collect rape kits within five days, to submit the kits to a laboratory within 30 days, to train officers on responses to sexual assault victims, and to notify victims about the progress of testing. Additionally, Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear sought to fund an independent researcher to provide an independent evaluation of the state’s efforts.

The research project will provide a holistic approach to examine the problem of untested sexual assault kits and will produce quarterly reports for the public. The study will examine the characteristics of untested sexual assault kits including victim, suspect, case and geographical characteristics and compare a sample of untested kits with a sample of previously tested kits to identify factors correlated with investigative decisions to request kit testing.

The study also will evaluate state-mandated training for law enforcement officers on providing a victim-centered approach to sexual assault investigations. In 2017, Campbell will survey approximately 500 officers who will complete a 40-hour training course to promote better understanding of sexual assault victims, including issues such as rape myth acceptance and victim-centered interviewing techniques. His results will be compared with a similar study at Sam Houston State University, which examines a new training initiative at the Houston Police Department to improve response to sexual assault and domestic violence victims. Cortney Franklin, Leana Bouffard and William Wells received a $400,000 grant from the Office of Violence Against Women at the U.S. Department of Justice to study the effectiveness of training, which is aimed at reducing gender bias in police responses to these crimes.

Campbell said receiving this award is a direct result of working for Wells on the Houston Police Department Sexual Assault Kit Action Research Project while at SHSU, which provided him with the skills and experience to complete this project. The project will closely replicate the research efforts in Houston, which will provide guidance on how to study the problem of unsubmitted sexual assault kits at the state level.

Similar to the unsubmitted sexual assault kit study at SHSU, Campbell will collaborate with several state and local law enforcement, prosecutorial and victim advocacy agencies.

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