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Criminal Investigative Effort in Sexual Assaults: Findings from a Sample of Cases with Unsubmitted Sexual Assault Kits

NCJ Number
Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology Volume: 36 Dated: 2021 Pages: 652-666
Date Published
15 pages

This article reports on a study examining specific investigative actions in order to study sexual assault case attrition; they discuss their research methodologies, outcomes, and implications for future research.


According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, more than 125,000 sexual assaults were reported to the police annually from 2015 to 2018. The number of crimes reported represents a small portion of the sexual assault victims experience each year and significant numbers of cases that are reported “fall out” of the system at different decision points. This is known as case attrition, and research has established the importance of studying attrition. Studies that examine sexual assault case attrition and the legal system’s response have focused on key decision points, including police officers’ decision to found cases, arrest suspects, and prosecutors’ charging decisions. Few studies have examined specific investigative actions. Understanding these actions will help shed light on case attrition in the criminal-legal system. The current study utilized a sample of 493 sexual assault case files to measure the investigative actions taken in these cases. The authors quantified information-gathering activities from people and physical evidence, and examined relationships between these activities and case characteristics. Police investigators attempted to contact victims at least once in a majority of cases, but no suspects were investigated in over half of cases. Case characteristics, including whether the victim provided a sworn statement and if they were perceived as cooperative, were associated with several investigative actions. The authors also discuss directions for future research. Publisher Abstract Provided

Date Published: January 1, 2021