Sexual Assault Medical Forensic Examination Research Forum: Summary of Research Questions Identified

Washington, D.C.
March 28-29, 2012

This forum, sponsored by the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) and the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), explored gaps in the existing research related to the technical aspects of sexual assault medical forensic examination (SAMFE). The goal was to identify what research is needed to bring a stronger evidence base to the SAMFE. The forum focused on the following topics:

  • Types of evidence gathered.
  • Examination technology.
  • Standardizing the evidence kit.
  • Evolving DNA technology.
  • Potential use and logistics of telemedicine during the examination.

Forum discussion was limited to adult/adolescent examinations, not pediatric, and the research issues applicable at the national level. The forum builds upon a congressional requirement pursuant to the Violence Against Women Act of 2000 (VAWA) that mandated the Attorney General to develop national standards related to the SAMFE. This mandate led the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to develop the National Protocol for Sexual Assault Medical Forensic Examinations (Adults/Adolescents) (pdf, 141 pages) and the National Training Standards for Sexual Assault Medical Forensic Examiners (pdf, 33 pages), and to offer technical assistance resources to encourage jurisdictions to implement a standardized approach to the SAMFE process. It has since become evident that evidence-based SAMFE practices are essential to support standardization across jurisdictions and ultimately to increase the effectiveness of the examination process in facilitating victim healing and case investigation and prosecution. Due to a number of factors—such as variations in circumstances of individual sexual assault cases, the multifaceted nature of the SAMFE process and potential involvement of practitioners from multiple disciplines and jurisdictions, and differences in SAMFE protocol implementation across jurisdictions—there has been great debate regarding the merits, problems, and gaps associated with each detail of the process. OVC and NIJ sought feedback during this forum on what specific research is critical to inform debate regarding best practices for the above topics.

Forum participants included sexual assault forensic examiners (SAFE), victim advocates, law enforcement officers, prosecutors, forensic laboratory personnel, researchers, federal agency personnel, and one identified sexual assault survivor. [1] Participants were asked to identify SAMFE technical practice concerns and challenges, research gaps and unique issues, and, subsequently, relevant research questions. Practitioners and survivors were asked to use their experiences to give context to issues. Researchers were asked to share information from applicable studies and help translate identified knowledge gaps into research questions. Several participants were asked in advance to make a brief presentation on one or more of the above topics—what are the current practices, what research is guiding those practice decisions, and what else we need to know about the practices—to lead the group into focused discussions.

This diverse group of participants was highly supportive of the translational criminology approach to research. Translational criminology is a strategy for transforming criminal justice through research. By bringing evidence to bear on crime policies and practices, researchers can form a bridge between the work of research and the real-life challenges of fighting crime and enhancing justice. Transformation through research is a cyclical process. Continually, NIJ draws on the needs of practitioners to inform its research agenda; the cycle of transformation continues as research findings are conveyed and translated by researchers in ways that reshape practice and policy.


[1] One participant, who was a victim advocate by profession, was identified by meeting planners as a survivor and asked specifically to speak from that perspective during the forum. Other participants also spoke from the victim/victim advocate perspective during the meeting.

Date Created: September 13, 2012