Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI)

The Begun Center for Violence Prevention Research and Education at the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School at Case Western Reserve University is partnering with the Cuyahoga County Sexual Assault Kit Task Force on an action research project to examine untested sexual assault kits (SAKs) in Cuyahoga County.  The Task Force is currently following up via investigation and prosecution on the DNA testing of nearly 5,000 previously untested kits from 1993 through 2009. Click here for an overview of the project>>

Specific research initiatives detailed below.

Bureau of Justice Assistance Sexual Assault Kit Initiative-Funded Research

sakiThe Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI) is a Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA)-funded, multisite initiative that aims to address the problem of backlogged SAKs. The Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office (CCPO) received SAKI funds under the 2015 and 2016 solicitations. The Begun Center is the research partner on both awards. This research includes:


Process Evaluation

A process evaluation was conducted in collaboration with the Task Force and funded from the 2015 SAKI award in order to provide recommendations and research-based “promising practices” for other jurisdictions that are in the process of tackling their backlog of unsubmitted SAKs. A process evaluation is an assessment of how a program is implemented. Process evaluations focus on the “process” of a program’s activities and output—the who, what, when, and why.  The briefs from the process evaluation are as follows:

This brief explores the efficacy of having a shared space for a multidisciplinary team that is responsible for tackling the issue of unsubmitted SAKs in their community. Our research finds that being in close proximity for extended periods of time has many positive outcomes including engendering a cultural shift that can break through disciplinary silos leading to more positive experiences for victims and successful prosecutions. The findings and recommendations detailed in this brief can be applicable to jurisdictions that are currently tackling or beginning to address their jurisdiction’s unsubmitted SAKs, regardless of whether those efforts are currently being funded under BJA SAKI grants.


In this research brief, we detail the process by which previously unsubmitted SAKs advance through four phases—testing, investigation, prosecution, and disposition—on the Cuyahoga County SAK Task Force (Task Force).  We describe the key steps in the process, providing statistics on the number of cases that proceed or fail to proceed as well as the reasons why cases fail to proceed.

The purpose of this research brief is to aid other jurisdictions that are processing their previously unsubmitted SAKs in visualizing the processing from testing to disposition, collecting performance measures at each step in the process, and establishing comparable statistics across jurisdictions. This will aid in forecasting how many SAKs will likely include DNA hits, how many investigations should be completed, and how many should result in indictments and convictions, which can then be used for allocating resources, informing end-dates, communicating updates and expectations, and, hopefully, helping ensure no new “backlog” develops.  Additionally, we have provided statistics in this brief to aid other jurisdictions in knowing what comes after testing.


Previous research has addressed the logistical and structural factors that contributed to the backlog. This research brief approaches this issue from a different perspective—focusing instead on the Cuyahoga County Sexual Assault Kit Task Force (Task Force) members’ perceptions of the reasons for the backlog. We detail in the brief perceptions of what created the backlog, which provides an important glimpse into what was not working about the process according to Task Force members. Through their analyses and critiques, we can observe the shifts in culture and practice that have occurred, due in part to the passage of time and larger societal changes, but mainly derive from Task Force member’s participation in this specialized Task Force created to address the backlog.



Examination of SAK case files

In early 2015, as part of the SAK Pilot Research Project (see below for more details), the Cuyahoga County SAK Research Project team began to examine case files of the previously unsubmitted kits. To date, the team has gathered details on nearly 500 of these unsubmitted cases capturing extensive details about the rape kit, the sexual assault, the offender, the victim, the investigation, and the prosecution.

This is a unique project that captures detailed, historical data over an almost 20-year span of time for a large number of sexual assaults in Cuyahoga County that were never prosecuted—for the purposes of informing and reforming current policy and practice.  The 2015 and 2016 BJA SAKI awards support the continued examination of the SAK case files. The following brief outlines the findings from this project:

It is a common belief among law enforcement and prosecutors that serial sex offenders maintain a consistent modus operandi (MO), or offending pattern.  The standard investigative practices in many law enforcement agencies are to either investigate a sexual assault allegation as an isolated event or use the offender’s MO to link other sexual assaults possibly committed by that offender. However, recent research from the Cuyahoga County Sexual Assault Kit research team at Case Western Reserve University is calling this practice into question.

In our recently published paper in the Journal of Criminal Justice “Offending patterns for serial sex offenders identified via the DNA testing of previously unsubmitted sexual assault kits,” we present findings showing that serial sex offenders frequently assault both strangers and nonstrangers, and often drastically vary their MO across assaults.

In this paper, we discuss our findings and why these findings contradict standard practices for investigating sexual assault, provide recommendations for changing how law enforcement investigates sexual assault based on these findings, and include a discussion of the larger implications of this research for collecting and testing kits and following up on the results of the testing.



Victim Advocacy

We are currently in the process of collecting data on victim advocacy.

Owed DNA Research Project

As part of the 2016 BJA SAKI solicitation, the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office was awarded a grant to identify offenders who should have their DNA in the FBI’s DNA database (the Combined DNA Index System, CODIS) but do not—offenders who lawfully “owe” their DNA. In addition to identifying offenders who “owe” DNA, the Task Force will also collect, submit, and track DNA samples of these offenders.

The Cuyahoga County SAK Research Project team is collaborating with the Task Force in conducting (1) a census of offenders who owe DNA and (2) an assessment of the efficacy of changes to practice. Currently, the team is conducting the census of offenders who owe their DNA.

Freedman Fellows

lovell-luminais-freedmanThe 2017 Freedman Fellows is a program funded by the CWRU College of Arts and Sciences, the Kelvin Smith Library and the Freedman Fellows Endowment by Samuel B. and Marian K. Freedman. The program supports full-time faculty in integrating new digital tools and technology into their research. This annual award is given to full-time CWRU faculty whose current scholarly research projects involve some corpus of data that is of scholarly or instructional interest (e.g., data sets, digital texts, digital images, databases), involve the use of digital tools and processes, and have clearly articulated project outcomes.

Drs. Rachel Lovell and Misty Luminais have collected data from over 500 backlogged Sexual Assault Kits from Cuyahoga County dating from 1993 to 2009. Using The Freedman Center’s ArcGIS visual mapping software, Lovell and Luminais are interested in exploring the spatial relationships between attackers, victims, and the surrounding environment. By exploring the geographical data and making it available to public, they aim to be a resource to criminology circles where data at this level of detail has not been seen before.

Cuyahoga County SAK Pilot Research Project

ccopIn early 2015, The Begun Center for Violence Prevention Research and Education was approached by the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office (CCPO) for the purposes of understanding more about the unsubmitted SAKs being tested, investigated, and prosecuted by the Cuyahoga County SAK Task Force.

Funded by the CCPO, a team of researchers at the Begun Center, headed by Drs. Rachel Lovell and Daniel Flannery, were given access to the SAK case files. The research team coded a random sample of 243 sexual assaults with completed investigations and either resulted in prosecution or were not pursued due to insufficient evidence. From the case files the team coded police and investigative reports, forensic lab reports, and criminal histories and developed an extensive database of codes to assist the CCPO in knowing more about the victims, offenders, serial offenders, and sexual assaults, at what point in the process the investigations are stalled, and the factors that lead to more successful prosecutions.

As of 2015, all 4,845 unsubmitted SAKs from 1993 to 2010 from Cuyahoga County have been submitted to BCI for testing. To assist the Prosecutor’s Office in streamlining their efforts, researchers at the Begun Center mapped each step of the process from Testing to Disposition. Utilizing data provided by CCPO, this brief illustrates how SAKs move through the four main phases of this process—Testing, Investigation, Prosecution, and Disposition. As a SAK proceeds through the process it (potentially) changes from (1) a SAK, (2) an investigation, (3) a prosecution, and (4) a final disposition.

Read more > >

This brief provides a description of the data, sampling, methods, and data limitations of the SAK Pilot Research Project. Utilizing data provided by the Prosecutor’s office via an electronic database of documents used for prosecution, the Begun Center research team gleaned information about the investigative process and entered these data into a quantitative database. The Pilot Research Project focuses on unsubmitted SAKs with completed investigations as of August 2015.

Read more > >

This brief provides a description of these victims in terms of their demographics, criminal history prior to and after the sexual assault, relationship to the offender, and degree of perceived cooperation during the initial investigation in the 243 sexual assaults analyzed for the SAK Pilot Research Project.

Read more > >

This brief provides a comparison of serial offenders and one-time offenders in terms of their demographics, criminal histories prior to and after the assault, relationship to the offender, and modus operandi in the 243 sexual assaults analyzed for the SAK Pilot Research Project. Serial offender status was determined based on the number of CODIS hits or sexual offense arrests in the offender’s criminal history.

Read more > >

We conducted an analysis of the cost savings and cost effectiveness of the Cuyahoga County Sexual Assault Kit (SAK) Task Force on all unsubmitted SAKs tested as of January 1, 2016. We explored the total tangible and intangible costs to victims associated with unsubmitted SAKs and the total cost of testing and investigated those SAKs. Our analysis estimates the total cost savings of future sexual assaults averted due to the SAK Task Force as of January 1, 2016 is $48.2 million dollars. Conservative estimates suggest the SAK Task Force’s efforts will produce a net savings of $38.7 million dollars to the community and each SAK tested will produce a net savings of $8,893.

Read more > >

This report provides data describing how sexual assault reports from the unsubmitted sexual assault kits that were not previously indicted were initially processed through the system from the Reporting Phase, to the Initial Investigative Phase, and the Prosecution Phase. We then track what is currently happening with these cases as part of the Cuyahoga County Sexual Assault Kit (SAK) Pilot Research Project.

Read more > >

This report describes patterns of sexual offending. The exploratory examination of the typology of offending helps describe different types of sexual assaults by providing context behind how these different types of sexual assaults occur and who the offenders may be. Guided by the scientific literature on sexual assaults and violence against women, we examined data on our sample of 243 Sexual Assault Kits (SAKs) to discern a pattern for four types of sexual assaults: sexual assaults that involve kidnapping, sexual assaults committed by strangers, sexual assaults committed by multiple offenders, and sexual assaults that involve captivity.

Read more > >

In the News

What might we learn from the Ohio Rape Kit Survey project?: Progress Report
Cleveland Plain Dealer; September 27, 2017

Backlog Of Untested Rape Kits On The Agenda When Lawmakers Return To State Capitol
Capital Public Radio; August 17, 2017

Tracking Ohio’s Rape Kits
Ideastream; August 2, 2017

Help find out what’s happened with 13,931 Ohio rape kits sent for testing
Cleveland Plain Dealer; July 20, 2017

Despite backlog of rape kits, California lawmakers aren’t requiring they be tested or tallied
Daily News; July 8, 2017

DNA from thousands of Cuyahoga County felony arrests never taken, not in CODIS crime-solving database
Cleveland Plain Dealer; June 16, 2017

Mariska Hargitay testifies combating sexual assault
C-SPAN; June 16, 2017

Processing rape kits saves heartache and money, Cuyahoga prosecutors tell congressional task force
Cleveland Plain Dealer; June 16, 2017

Lawmakers set to pass rape kit retention bill, but not mandatory testing
The Baltimore Sun; April 3, 2017

A Plea for Justice: Cuyahoga County accused rapists spend, on average, just 5.3 years behind bars
WEWS; February 23, 2017

Rape Kit Research Update
Ideastream; February 14, 2017

Missed opportunities’ provide lessons for better rape investigations and prosecutions
Cleveland Plain Dealer; February 10, 2017

She was a crack fiend’ excuse less accepted as rape investigations and prosecutions improve
Cleveland Plain Dealer; February 10, 2017

No testing, no pattern. Serial rapist connected to seven assaults in Dallas
End the Backlog; January 23, 2017

Even after backlogged rape kits tested, convictions are rare
CBS News; December 21, 2016

A flawed, inconsistent police response to sexual assault in Maryland
Baltimore Sun; December 3, 2016

Why Testing Rape Kits Would Save Us Millions In Fight To Catch Serial Rapists
Elite Daily; November 29, 2016

Testing of backlogged rape evidence leads to hundreds of convictions
WFMY News 2; November 20, 2016

Testing of backlogged rape evidence leads to hundreds of convictions
The Conversation; November 13, 2016

Stopping Rapists: Uncovering Clues from Tested Kits
Think Magazine; November 1, 2016

Cuyahoga Co. rape task force gets huge boost from Department of Justice
News 5 Cleveland; September 30, 2016

Sexual Assault Kit Task Force, Case Western researchers get $3 million for rape kit work, to collect ‘owed’ DNA
Cleveland Plain Dealer; September 30, 2016

It’s Official: Testing Rape Kits Prevents Assault And Saves Everybody Millions
Forbes; September 14, 2016

Congress Just Unanimously Passed the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights
Broadly/Vice; September 8, 2016

The U.S. Is One Step Closer to a Federal Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights
Slate; September 7, 2016

Testing Rape Kit Backlogs Saves Millions Of Dollars
Vocativ; September 7, 2016

This Group Is Sending a Rape Kit to Every U.S. Governor
New York Magazine/The Cut; August 11, 2016

The Disturbing Truth: Rape Kit Study Paints New Picture of Sex Offenders
Sputnik News; August 6, 2016

Sound of Ideas: Rape Kit Testing & Research
Ideastream; June 30, 2016

The cost of testing rape kits: Experts say it’s saved us $38.7 million so far
Cleveland Plain Dealer; June 29, 2016

Cuyahoga County Leads the Nation in Its Rape Kit Response With 500th Indicted Man
Cleveland Plain Dealer; June 29, 2016

Case To Analyze Ohio’s Procedures For Rape-Kit Backlog
WKSU; June 28, 2016

5 misconceptions about rape
Chicago Tribune; June 13, 2016

Five Myths about Rape
Washington Post; June 10, 2016

Researchers Just Revealed a Startling Truth about Sexual Assault
ATTN; June 10, 2016

Rape Kit Tests in Ohio Find More Than Half of Sexual Assaults Committed by Serial Killers
New York Times; June 9, 2016

Serial Rapists Are More Common Than We Knew And Testing Rape Kits Is Only Part Of The Answer to Reducing Sexual Assault
Bustle; June 7, 2016

Case Western: Testing Backlogged Rape Kits Leads to 250 Convictions
Newsnet5 Cleveland; June 7, 2016

What Testing 5,000 Backlogged Rape Kits Just Told Us About Rapists
Refinery29; June 7, 2016

The Disturbing Thing Researchers Found When They Finally Looked at 5,000 Untested Rape Kits
Teen Vogue; June 7, 2016

Serial Rapists ‘Far More Common’ Than Thought
Newser; June 7, 2016

Serial Rapists are Far More Common Than Thought, Analysis of 5,000 ‘Forgotten and Backlogged’ Rape Kits in Ohio Reveals
Daily Mail; June 7, 2016

Analysis of 5,000 Forgotten Rape Kits Reveals Unexpectedly High Number of Serial Rapists
Independent; June 7, 2016

Study of Untested Rape Kits Show That Serial Rapists Are Unexpectedly Common
Oxygen; June 7, 2016

It’s Very Likely that Brock Turner Will Commit Another Sexual Assault
Women’s Health; June 7, 2016

Testing of Backlogged Rape Kits Yields New Insights into Rapists
Science Daily; June 6, 2016

Report: Testing Old ‘Rape Kits’ Led to New Convictions, Reveals New Data about Sex Predators
UPI; June 6, 2016

Analysis of Untested Rape Kits Reveals Serial Rapists are ‘Far More Common’ Than We Thought
Jezebel; June 6, 2016

A Great Reason to Test Old Rape Kits: Preventing Future Rapes
New York Magazine; June 6, 2016

Rape Kit Data Yield Major Implications for Sexual Assault Investigations
EurekaAlert!; June 6, 2016

Rape kit data yield major implications for sexual assault investigations; June 6, 2016

Analysis of Untested Rape Kits Reveals Serial Rapists are ‘Far More Common’ Than We Thought
Jezebel; June 6, 2016

Serial sex assault and what might be learned from the case of Louis Bello
Cleveland Plain Dealer; March 15, 2016

What local research about rape kits could mean for stopping serial rapists
Cleveland Plain Dealer; March 11, 2016

This New Bill Could Make A World Of Difference To Sexual Assault Survivors
Self; February 24, 2016

CSI Cleveland: How the City Is Curbing Sexual Assault
The Christian Science Monitor; February 21, 2016

Why an Ohio Supreme Court case involving rape kits is drawing national attention
Cleveland Plain Dealer; February 1, 2016