To draw attention to the need to ensure that survivors are notified about the status of their rape kits—a process referred to as victim notification—Joyful Heart is conducting ground-breaking research into current notification practices across the country.
In speaking with members of law enforcement, advocates and survivors nationwide, we have learned that few jurisdictions have official policies and procedures for notifying survivors that their rape kits were part of a backlog. Those who have been responsible for delivering notifications, usually members of law enforcement, frequently said that they would have liked greater access to information on best practices.
Although each jurisdiction has a slightly different approach to notification, certain themes have emerged in Joyful Heart’s initial research. For example, in many jurisdictions, a multidisciplinary team collaborates on making case-by-case decisions about whether and how to notify a particular survivor. Those teams always include either a police officer or prosecutor and often include advocates.
Several jurisdictions approach notification in various steps, such as first calling the survivor and then asking whether she or he would like to meet in person. This approach allows survivors greater control over what, if any, information they receive.
Despite these areas of consensus, jurisdictions’ approaches differ on certain key points. The largest differences seem to be when, if at all, notification occurs in the backlog clearing process, who delivers it and how. Some jurisdictions notify only survivors whose cases will move forward in the criminal justice process while others notify regardless of criminal justice outcomes. Some jurisdictions send notifications by letter, and others deliver the notification over the phone or in person. In some cases, police officers deliver the notifications, and in others, an advocate reaches out to the survivor.