Using Science and Experience When Contacting Sexual Assault Victims

Any one of the law enforcement executives in the United States who is engaged in efforts to test large numbers of sexual assault kits is well aware of the challenges: figuring out how to get an accurate inventory, setting up systems to track kits, developing a plan for sending kits to the lab for testing, allocating resources for follow-up investigations, and deciding how to notify victims. Previous experience, science, and analysis can help with all these challenges—even victim notification.

The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) has conducted extensive work on sexual violence and has found that telling a victim that law enforcement has new information in the case can raise complex psychological issues for the victim. It can also raise legal issues. Victims may no longer want to be a part of the investigation, for example, or they may experience flashbacks that can harm their recovery and trigger other emotional health issues.