Cuyahoga County

Sexual Assault Kit Task Force: A National Model


Prosecutors discuss challenges and best practices during a breakout session at the 2014 Sexual Assault Kit Summit in Cleveland.

Forensic scientists discuss sexual assault kit testing during a breakout session at the 2014 Sexual Assault Kit Summit in Cleveland.
In 2015, when the State of Kentucky was faced with a backlog of some 3,100 untested Sexual Assault Kits, Adam Edelen, the Commonwealth’s Auditor of Public Accounts, was asked to recommend how best to proceed with testing and follow-up. His team look at how jurisdictions around the country were handling their backlogs and their report included this case study:

"Cuyahoga County, Ohio, which encompasses the City of Cleveland, has become a national model for tackling untested sexual assault kits. It has tested 3,827 kits and hopes to finish testing the remaining 1,000 untested kits in the fall of 2015, according to the Special Investigations Chief (Chief) at the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office.

The impetus for reform was a gruesome case in which five women went missing after police failed to test a sexual assault kit that matched the killer’s DNA. Their bodies were eventually found at the home of a serial killer in 2009, in addition to the bodies of six other women. The Chief told auditors that after this case, it was found that police were closing many sexual assault cases when victims, who were often addicts, prostitutes or homeless, didn’t show up for police interviews. In response to the public scrutiny, the Ohio Attorney General ordered all kits from 1993-2009, test or untested, to be “fork lifted” from the police department to the Attorney General’s forensic laboratory.

To clear the backlog, the Attorney General invested $5 million to purchase equipment and hire and train 28 new forensic laboratory analysts. Since beginning the testing in 2011, 319 individuals have been indicted and 82 have been convicted. Ninety-one percent of the defendants identified, or 230 defendants, are serial rapists. Most of those defendants assaulted at least two victims, while three assaulted a dozen or more victims. The Attorney General expects that 60 percent of all the kits submitted would result in a DNA profile that should be investigated."

Mining data to improve future rape investigations and prosecutions

Besides bringing justice to long-ignored victims and taking scores of violent offenders off the streets, the work of the Cuyahoga County Sexual Assault Kit Task Force is also helping to change how law enforcement agencies and the academic community view and prosecute rape.

That’s because the Task Force has partnered with researchers from the Begun Center for Violence Prevention Research and Education at Case Western Reserve University’s Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences, and has given unprecedented access to information on hundreds of sexual assaults committed between 1993 and 2010.

Already the research team has discovered that serial rapists are far more common than previous research suggested—a finding that could change how sexual assaults, including so-called acquaintance rapes, are investigated. They are also learning more about how rapists operate and their victims.

“By working together, we can help change the way sexual assaults are investigated and how the system and society view sexual assaults, victims, and offenders,” said Daniel J. Flannery, the Dr. Semi J. and Ruth W. Begun Professor at the Mandel School, director of the Begun Center, and co-lead researcher of the Cuyahoga County Sexual Assault Kit Pilot Research Project.

“We have an historical opportunity and obligation to make a difference,” he said.

“These rape kits have been the greatest gold mine of information and leads for law enforcement that I have seen in my four-decade career,” said Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty. “We are going to end up prosecuting a thousand criminals, and that will make our county significantly safer. But we also want to learn from mistakes that created our this backlog and never allow them to be repeated.”

Here are links to CWRU's research briefs:

Overview of the SAK project

Methodology

Victims

Serial vs. single-incident offenders

Cost Savings and Cost Effectiveness

What Happened with the Sexual Assaults Reports? Then Vs. Now


Media Coverage of the Cuyahoga County Sexual Assault Kit Task Force

Testing backlogged sexual assault kits prevents future rapes and saves victims and communities millions.

WCPN 90.3 Sound of Ideas on the 500th defendant (Conversation begins at the 18:35 mark)

Identifying rapist through DNA testing of old kits can bring victims pain, gain - Sharon Cohen, AP
Old rape kits and 4 brave women bring rapist to justice - Sharon Cohen, AP
 Special Investigations Division Chief Rick Bell on the Diane Rehm Show
Cleveland.com’s week-long look at the inner workings of the Sexual Assault Kit Task Force
Archive of Rachel Dissell’s Plain Dealer/Cleveland.com coverage of the rape kit issue
American Takedown

 

For media inquiries regarding the Task Force, please contact our communications department.

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