The Joyful Heart Foundation with Dr. Paul Speaker, West Virginia University
Dr. Paul J. Speaker is a professor in the finance department of the John Chambers College of Business & Economics at West Virginia University. He is also the Principal Investigator for Project FORESIGHT, a business-guided analysis of Forensic Science Laboratories. Here he shares with us some of his most recent research, which demonstrates just how much communities benefit financially when they test rape kits.
For decades, hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits have been languishing in police storage rooms around the country. Survivors who chose to undergo an hours-long, invasive medical exam to collect DNA evidence left behind by the attacker do so because they expect that this evidence, packaged in what is called a “rape kit,” would be submitted to a crime lab for DNA analysis. But overwhelmingly, kits have been shelved, untested in storage rooms across the country.
To correct this injustice, money is needed to pay for crime lab resources to test kits, police to investigate new leads on cold cases, and prosecutors to bring offenders to justice. State legislators are in charge of determining how state monies are used—and many don’t know if spending state funds on the rape kit backlog is worth it.
A recent study demonstrates enormous economic returns for communities that invest state dollars to test kits swiftly. Processing every rape kit could be one of the most effective uses of state funds.
65,000% Return on Investment
Return on investment (ROI) compares cost and benefits to determine how much is gained as a percentage of the original investment. For instance, if you invest one dollar in playing a lottery game and win two dollars, your ROI is a positive 100%. If you don’t win anything, your ROI is a negative 100%.
Recent research shows that testing backlogged rape kits could be one of the most beneficial investments for state legislatures, with the ability to produce an astonishingly positive ROI of up to 65,000% to society. To put this into perspective, an investment in the stock market has an average ROI for investors of about 10%.
Law enforcement agencies submit rape kits to crime labs where forensic scientists extract a DNA profile from items in the rape kit, such as swabs and blood samples. This profile is uploaded to databases containing DNA profiles of offenders. The purpose is to see if there is a “match” between the DNA collected from the victim to DNA in the databases, connecting a crime to an offender.
Because of different crime rates, populations served, and scale of operations, the cost to undertake this work varies widely from one jurisdiction to the next; it can cost anywhere from $500-$1,500 to test one rape kit.
The benefits from testing backlogged rape kits, however, have demonstrated how much communities have to gain from testing all kits. Researchers have estimated that testing every rape kit could save states more than $400,000 per averted assault. As more kits are tested, more “matches” are made, and more serial offenders are identified. If more serial offenders are identified and prosecuted, future crimes are averted, producing savings to both would-be victims and communities, who save money on crime investigations and prosecutions in averted crimes. Additional research has shown that adding the DNA of just one offender to the DNA database provides savings to society that may be as high as $20,000 per submission.
Comparing Costs and Benefits, Benefits Win
Project FORESIGHT at West Virginia University collects crime lab data and provides jurisdictions with a cost analysis. In conjunction with the recent studies on the benefits of testing rape kits and those on the costs of testing all kits, this data indicates that a crime lab with a very small caseload will provide society an ROI of nearly 10,000% from testing all rape kits. A larger crime lab with more efficient rape kit testing processes and more resources will provide society with an ROI of up to 65,000% from testing all kits.
The returns from investing in testing all rape kits are astronomical.
Testing Kits Makes Economic Sense
Legislators must invest state funds into testing rape kits. This cost-benefit analysis demonstrates the astonishing return it yields for survivors, taxpayers, and communities. If DNA evidence is tested, it could reveal serial rapists. Once these offenders are apprehended, there will be less crime in the community, and state governments end up saving money on public safety in the long run.
West Virginia University’s research was supported, in part, by the National Institute of Justice’s Forensic Technology Center for Excellence (Award 2016-DN-BX-K110).