Our guest authors today are from the research team of the Begun Center for Violence Prevention Research and Education at Case Western Reserve University: Rachel Lovell, PhD; Mendel Singer, PhD; Daniel Flannery, PhD; and Misty Luminais, PhD. Here they explain why testing rape kits is beneficial for sexual assault survivors and for communities looking to cut crime and costs.
Testing rape kits can provide justice for survivors, but if more arguments are needed to build support for testing rape kits, a cost study conducted by our research team at the Begun Center for Violence Prevention Research and Education at Case Western Reserve University shows that efforts to test backlogged kits can save communities money and prevent future rapes.
Ohio Efforts to Test Backlogged Kits Led to Research
In 2013, the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office (CCPO) established the Sexual Assault Kit (SAK) Task Force, a multidisciplinary group of investigators, victim advocates, prosecutors, forensic scientists, and other partners involved with processing rape kits. This task force was charged with investigating and prosecuting cases arising from tested backlogged kits. Because CCPO was interested in studying the impact of their policy actions, they funded research by our team. As part of the pilot research project, we analyzed the cost effectiveness of testing rape kits. Our research question was simple: are there financial benefits for cities and states that test backlogged SAKs?
Research and Findings
To understand the cost savings and cost effectiveness of the task force efforts to test unsubmitted SAKs, we analyzed SAKs tested as of January 1, 2016. Factoring in the cost of testing kits, investigating cases, and other related expenses, we calculated the overall cost effectiveness of testing 4,347 unsubmitted kits. Our research found that, by testing these kits, Cuyahoga County had saved a net total of $38.7 million dollars, or $8,893 per tested kit.
Rape is Costly to Victims and the Community
No amount of money can make up for the trauma experienced by a sexual assault survivor. To help shape policy decisions, however, previous research has estimated a dollar amount by calculating the tangible and intangible costs to the victim. Tangible costs include medical expenses, lost workdays, and out-of-pocket expenses. Research puts tangible costs at $5,556 per victim. Intangible costs, such as pain and suffering, decreased quality of life, and psychological distress, are estimated to be much higher at $198,212 per victim. Adding the tangible and intangible costs, we get the total cost of sexual assault at $203,768 per victim.
Cuyahoga County tested 4,347 kits. Therefore, the total cost for these 4,347 victims was $885.8 million.
Testing and Investigations Cost Less
According to the Bureau of Criminal Investigation, a rape kit in Ohio costs $950 to test, which includes $435 for the testing supplies and $515 for the personnel time. The task force, which is re-investigating every tested rape kit, estimates the additional cost of investigating and providing victim advocacy to be $1,255 per investigation. Combining the costs of the testing and investigating, the total cost of each kit is $2,205. For all 4,347 kits, the total cost to Cuyahoga County for testing and investigating the kits was $9.6 million.
- Total cost to the victims: $885.8 million.
- Total cost to test and investigate: $9.6 million.
The cost to the victims is more than 92 times higher than the cost of testing and investigating the rape kits.
Cost Savings Comes From the Follow-up
Simply testing unsubmitted rape kits will not save communities money. Savings come from following up the testing with thorough investigations and prosecutions; in other words, by getting offenders off the street and thereby preventing future rapes.
Based on the conservative estimate that one out of four sexual offenders will commit another rape, if four rapists are convicted, at least one of those rapists would have assaulted a victim again had they had not been incarcerated. Therefore, our study estimates that for every four rape convictions produced by the task force, at least one rape is prevented. If the total cost of an assault to a victim is $203,768, 25 percent (or ¼) of this is $50,942. This represents the cost averted per offender convicted.
We estimate the task force will end up having 948 convictions from the 4,347 tested rape kits. Multiplying $50,942 in savings per conviction by 948 convictions equals a grand total of $48.2 million in savings. Subtracting the cost of investigations and testing ($9.5 million), we get a net savings to the community of $38.7 million.
$50,942 savings per conviction * 948 convictions = $48.2 million in savings
$48.2 million in savings - $9.5 million cost of investigations = $38.7 million in net savings
Cuyahoga County saved $38.7 million by testing 4,437 backlogged kits, investigating every case, prosecuting offenders, and preventing them from committing future crimes.
In the Long Run, It Pays to Test and Investigate
It is true that testing, investigating, and prosecuting cases from these unsubmitted rape kits requires a substantial amount of often scarce resources. However, our research shows that with untested kits, there are substantial financial benefits to jurisdictions who test backlogged kits, investigate cases, and prosecute offenders. These efforts additionally will bring safer communities and healing for survivors of sexual assault.
END THE BACKLOG is an initiative of the Joyful Heart Foundation to shine a light on the backlog of untested rape kits throughout the United States. Our goal is to end this injustice by conducting groundbreaking research identifying the extent of the nation’s backlog and best practices for eliminating it, expanding the national dialogue on rape kit testing through increased public awareness, engaging communities and government agencies and officials, and advocating for comprehensive rape kit reform legislation and policies at the local, state and federal levels. We urge you to learn more about the backlog, where it exists, and why it matters. We invite you to take action and support efforts to test rape kits. Help us send the message that we must take rape seriously.