The NIJ-FBI Sexual Assault Kit Partnership — A Research Initiative for Unsubmitted Sexual Assault Kits

NIJ and the FBI form a partnership to address unsubmitted sexual assault kits.

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Overview of the Initiative

The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Laboratory have formed a partnership to help address one of the most difficult and complex issues facing our nation’s criminal justice system: unsubmitted sexual assault kits (frequently referred to as untested). The FBI will be a centralized testing laboratory for sexual assault kits, commonly referred to as rape kits, to be submitted from the nation’s law enforcement agencies and public forensic laboratories.

Each month, the FBI Laboratory will process and test a limited number of previously unsubmitted sexual assault kits while scientists at NIJ collect and analyze data about the kits. The goal of this project is to better understand the issues concerning the handling of sexual assault kits and suggest ways to improve the collection and processing of quality DNA evidence. Additionally, NIJ will gather information from the program to help inform training practices and testing protocols for sexual assault kits and improve the quality and practices for collecting evidence and processing sexual assault kits.

Over the years, forensic DNA analysis has proven to be invaluable to the law enforcement community and the victims of violent crimes and their families.  More violent crimes are solved as more DNA profiles are placed in the National DNA Index System (NDIS), which is considered one part of the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), the FBI’s program of support for criminal justice DNA databases as well as the software used to run these databases. NDIS has been particularly helpful to investigations that are very old and no longer producing new leads.  For instance, before NDIS was created, crimes from cold cases would have remained unsolved.  The national database has been instrumental in solving violent crimes and providing valuable investigative leads to law enforcement.

During the course of this partnership, the FBI will enter eligible profiles generated from DNA analysis into NDIS to aid in the investigation of violent crimes involving sexual assault. The NDIS database contains DNA profiles contributed by participating federal, state, and local forensic DNA laboratories.  All 50 states, the District of Columbia, the federal government, the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Laboratory and Puerto Rico participate in NDIS. As of July 2013, NDIS contains over 12,056,400 offender profiles and 504,700 forensic profiles. 

Ultimately, the success of the CODIS program will be measured by the crimes it helps to solve and prevent though its importance as an investigative tool.  CODIS's primary metric, "Investigation Aided," tracks the number of criminal investigations where CODIS has added value to the investigative process.  So far, CODIS has produced over 216,100 hits assisting in more than 207,100 investigations.

What Research Reveals About Why Kits Have Not Been Submitted

In 2009, NIJ published results from a nationwide survey that shed light on why kits may not be submitted. The survey revealed that between 2002-2007 police had not submitted forensic evidence (including DNA, fingerprints, firearms and toolmarks) to a crime laboratory in 18 percent of unsolved rapes, 14 percent of unsolved homicides, and 23 percent of unsolved property crimes for various reasons including:

  • No suspect had been identified.
  • Analysis was not requested by the prosecutor.
  • The laboratory was not accepting new evidence due to its backlog.
  • The officer was uncertain of its usefulness.
  • The laboratory was unable to produce timely results.

NIJ continually draws on the needs of practitioners to inform its research and programmatic agenda. Therefore the NIJ-FBI partnership will address some major needs in our nation’s forensic science and criminal justice communities. It will, for example, support state and local law enforcement agencies in their efforts to reduce the number of unsubmitted sexual assault kits. It will also help develop tools and strategies to evaluate current methodologies and procedures, improve practice, and inform future policies.

Why Launch This Initiative?

  • To carry out analysis of samples from unsubmitted sexual assault kits so DNA profiles can be developed and placed in NDIS.
  • To improve and inform practice and policy through increased awareness of current procedures.
  • To analyze data about the nature of the sexual assault kits submitted to better understand current practices of collecting evidence and improve future practices.
  • To obtain an understanding of the various processes associated with analysis such as screening and testing.
  • To inform best practices for collecting, analyzing, and testing evidence from sexual assault cases specific to the processing of large quantities of unsubmitted sexual assault kits.
  • To help lessen the number of unsubmitted sexual assault kits across the country.
  • To aid investigations, solve more crimes, and hold more criminals accountable.

Who Will Be Eligible to Submit Sexual Assault Kits?

Any law enforcement agency or public forensic laboratory.

Which Sexual Assault Kits Will Be Eligible?

  • The unsubmitted sexual assault kits submitted for analysis are currently in the custody of a state or local (municipality) law enforcement agency or public forensic laboratory.
  • The unsubmitted sexual assault kits are from an incident that took place more than one year from the time of submission.
  • No biological testing has been conducted on the sexual assault kits.
  • An incident or police report is enclosed for EACH sexual assault kit being submitted.

Other conditions:

  • The FBI laboratory will only conduct biological testing, and will NOT be conducting any other type of forensic testing (i.e., trace evidence).
  • Each agency is permitted to send no more than 30 unsubmitted sexual assault kits per request. Additional batches of up to 30 sexual assault kits must be requested separately using the same process and await approval.
  • The submitting agency must pay shipping to/from the FBI DNA lab in Quantico, VA, and include a pre-paid return shipping label containing necessary account information.

How Do I Submit Eligible Sexual Assault Kits?

If you are interested in submitting sexual assault kits for testing, contact us at SAKPartnership@usdoj.gov. In response, you will receive a consent form, along with additional instructions, to be filled out and returned via email.

Upon receipt of your consent form NIJ will determine whether you meet the eligibility requirements. If the requirements are met, NIJ will send you a second email with the agency intake form. This form is to be filled out and sent with your kits to the FBI.  We will also include your ship date in that email.

For research purposes and for use such as in NIJ reports or publications, the submitting agency may be requested to provide additional information. Any information obtained from sexual assault kits or through additional follow-up will be used for data collection purposes only and will not be used in any way that will identify a submitting agency. Data published by NIJ will be aggregated or de-identified, and all personally identifiable information pertaining to individual sexual assault kits will only be available to the FBI for law enforcement purposes.

Contact Information

Have a question or comment? Contact us at SAKPartnership@usdoj.gov.

You also may sign up to receive an email whenever new details are announced.

More Information on Sexual Assault Kits

To learn more about NIJ's research about sexual kits, see:

Publications:

Topic pages on NIJ.gov:

The Neurobiology of Sexual Assault, presentation by Rebecca Campbell, Ph.D.