CFRC Researcher Theodore Cross Funded to Study Forensic Evidence in Sexual Assault Cases
The CRFC's Theodore Cross recently was funded by the National Institute of Justice to study the frequency and impact of forensic evidence in sexual assault cases. Forensic evidence in sexual assault cases can corroborate victim reports, help criminal justice professionals prove that assault occurred, particularly for child victims, and identify unknown suspects through DNA matching. But we know surprisingly little about how common forensic evidence is in these cases and what impact it has on criminal justice outcomes. Dr. Cross' research team will work with public agencies in Massachusetts to combine information from data bases on health care providers' examinations of victims, crime lab analysis of sexual assault evidence kits, and police records of arrests and criminal charges. The study will examine how often different types of forensic evidence are available (e.g., blood samples, saliva samples), at what point in the case the evidence becomes available, and how much it increases the chances of an arrest and criminal charge. Additional questions include whether forensic evidence has a greater impact in child or adult victim cases, and whether the evidence and its impact are greater if specialized nurses called Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs) conduct the forensic medical examinations. The results will provide new knowledge to help improve the effectiveness of systems collecting and using forensic evidence. Dr. Cross, an authority on the criminal justice response to child sexual abuse; will partner with Dr. Megan Alderden of St. Xavier University in Chicago, an expert on prosecution of adult sexual assault; and Alex Wagner of the Center for Leadership in Public Service at Fisher College in Boston, a specialist on Massachusetts public safety databases. The 18-month project begins January 2012.