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April 2, 2015
The multidisciplinary team that came together to research and respond to the issue of
untested sexual assault kits in Houston has released four more reports resulting from
their work. The four most recent reports make recommendations on topics related to
victim notification and improving judicial and law enforcement responses to sexual
assault victims.
The research and findings result from a $1.5 million National Institute of Justice (NIJ)
grant issued in 2011 that allowed Houston to form a multidisciplinary team to conduct
an action-research project designed not only to investigate what led to more than 6,660
untested sexual assault kits, but also recommend and implement changes in the system
to improve future results. The team included the University of Texas at Austin’s
Institute on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, project co-principal investigator, Dr.
Noel Busch-Armendariz and project director Caitlin Sulley. Busch-Armendariz and
Sulley, both at UT Austin School of Social Work, are the authors of these reports.
As part of the project, the researchers interviewed sexual assault victims and
professionals who engage with them following the attack. The research findings alluded
to several themes, including the need to take a victim-centered approach when
developing protocols for notifying victims that their sexual assault kit has been
processed and a possible suspect has been found in the national DNA database, CODIS.
The researchers made six recommendations regarding victim notification, including the
need to train law enforcement on the impact of trauma to improve their response to
victims, and the need to provide victims with options for their next steps. The research
and findings are outlined in four reports:
 How to Notify Victims about Sexual Assault Kit Evidence: Insight and Recommendations from Victims and
 Key Components of Building a Successful Victim Notification Protocol
 Does the Justice Advocate Position Enhance Sex Crimes Investigations?
 Sexual Assault Victims’ Experiences of Notification after a CODIS Hit
The reports can be found on the team’s website:
The multidisciplinary team also included the Houston Police Department, the Houston
Forensic Science Center, the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, Harris Health
System, the Houston Area Women’s Center, Memorial Hermann Health System and
Sam Houston State University’s Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology. In
addition to the four reports recently released, four reports and two other peer-reviewed
journal articles are already posted on the website,, and
several more are expected.
The NIJ grant paid for the research and testing of 500 sexual assault kits. Later, the NIJ
awarded Houston another $2.2 million for additional testing of sexual assault kits and
the City of Houston added another $2.2 million to test and review all 6,663 kits that had
been in the Houston Police Department Property Room. This part of the project was
completed in February, resulting in more than 850 CODIS hits. Several cases have
already gone to trial, and multi-year sentences have been handed down to some of
those convicted.
Ramit Plushnick-Masti
Houston Forensic Science Center
Public Information Officer
Andrea Campetella
The University of Texas at Austin
Director of Communication & Planning
School of Social Work
512 471-1458