U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

What’s Missing Matters: Examining Missing Data Problems in Sexual Assault Kit Data

NCJ Number
Deviant Behavior Volume: Online Dated: 2023
Date Published

This article reports on a study that examined the relationship between sexual assault kit submission and missing data associated with varying survivor, assault, and case characteristics.


Hundreds of thousands of sexual assault kits (SAKs) remain unsubmitted nationwide despite their potential usefulness in the successful prosecution of alleged perpetrators. Literature explores the probative value of SAK evidence in sexual assault cases. SAK evidence is processed along a three-link criminal justice chain of custody involving health-care professionals who enter data into a forensic medical report then transfer both to law enforcement, and finally to crime laboratories. FMRs are transferred along one or more record management systems (RMS) and may or may not be updated by receiving agencies as new evidence is collected. Consequently, researchers who have examined SAK data nationwide have consistently encountered problems with extensive missing, unreliable, and inconsistent data entry associated with varying survivor, assault, and case characteristics. The current study examines the relationship between missing data on these characteristics and SAK submission status among 371 unsubmitted and 371 submitted SAKs in Los Angeles (1982–2010) to examine these “missingness” problems. Results reveal a significant relationship between missing SAK data and kit submission status. The authors argue that the “missingness matters” as it may hinder effective case processing, the capacity of scholars to conduct rigorous and valid research, and most importantly, it may disadvantage just outcomes for survivors. Publisher Abstract Provided

Date Published: January 1, 2023