This report explains why the U.S. Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) cautions against submitting sexual assault kits (SAKs) to forensic laboratories when the person from whom the kit was collected has not chosen to report a sexual assault to law enforcement and has not otherwise consented to testing the SAK.
Although terms used to describe such SAKs vary across jurisdictions, this report refers to then as “non-investigative kits.” OVW’s position is that the forensic testing of non-investigative SAKs without victim consent can undermine a victim’s rights, weaken community trust in law enforcement, and misuse often limited forensic testing resources. OVW takes this position as the U.S. Justice Department’s lead entity in developing the nation’s capacity to reduce domestic and sexual violence, strengthen services for victims, and administer justice in cases that involve women victims. OVW’s position on this issue is shared by a large and diverse community of professionals working both inside and outside the justice system on behalf of crime victims. This view is based in the general perspective that any approach to addressing sexual assault must prioritize the rights and needs of victims, who are most impacted by these crimes. Although those who disagree with this position are correct in arguing that non-investigative SAKs could contain probative evidence that could potentially identify serial offenders and strengthen cases, there are strategies investigators can use to encourage victims to report crimes, obtain other information on the extent of sexual assault in a jurisdiction, and identify serial offenders. One example provided of an alternative investigative approach is to offer victims ways of sharing valuable information with law enforcement investigators without coercing the victim to commit to the formal justice process. This report provides online access to resources for alternative investigative options in such cases.
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