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There’s an App for That, and a Glossary, and Several Other FTCoE Sexual Assault Investigation Products

Criminal justice professionals working in the area of sexual assault might want to begin making room on their crowded devices for a new app: The Multidisciplinary Sexual Assault Kit Best Practices app, coming soon from the National Institute of Justice’s (NIJ) Forensic Technology Center of Excellence (FTCoE). The app, currently in beta testing, is just one of a number of products the FTCoE offers as part of its special initiative on sexual assault reform.

“We have had this special initiative since 2012 and we will continue to focus work in the area of sexual assault investigations in the future. I believe we are now reaching the point where many of our efforts have become widely accepted and used,” says FTCoE Director Jeri Ropero-Miller.

Read on for more information on several of those efforts, including the app.

App. Available in both iOS and Android versions, the Multidisciplinary Sexual Assault Kit Best Practices app is based on the NIJ report, National Best Practices for Sexual Assault Kits: A Multidisciplinary Approach (https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/250384.pdf). In addition to providing access to recommendations and guidance from the Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Reporting (SAFER) Act working group, it incorporates additional resources and links to external sites.

“Practitioners need to have dynamic information about how to best approach kits and trauma-informed sexual assault cases in general, and the mobile app will allow them to consume this information in a familiar format,” says Paige Presler-Jur, RTI International research scientist. “It’s more realistic to think they will use an app in the field as they do their work rather than their taking the time to sit down and look at information on a desktop computer or a printed publication.”

The free app, developed through a partnership with AB Castner Technologies, allows users to go directly to information related to any one of the 35 recommendations in the NIJ report. For example, law enforcement practitioners might want to review Recommendation 22, which states “All law enforcement personnel involved in sexual assault investigations should receive training in the neurobiology of trauma and specialized skills for interviewing sexual assault victims.” Presler-Jur says that recommendation includes information that’s important for anyone who works with victims of sexual assault.

“There are so many facets to how the trauma of sexual assault affects a person,” she says. “Receiving training in the neurobiology of trauma and in interviewing victims of sexual assault is really critical to achieving a trauma-informed approach that will both help a victim on the way to recovery and ensure that the case is going to be able to go through the criminal justice system. We feel the NIJ report has a lot of crucial information that will help jurisdictions implement victim-centered approaches for sexual assault cases, and it will make that information available in a format that people can access quickly, which is a benefit to the community.”

The app features an interactive table of contents that takes the user directly to specific chapters of the report, provides direct access to the recommendations, and links to external resources that include another FTCoE product, the Multidisciplinary Sexual Assault Glossary. This gateway to the glossary makes the app a “two-fer”; that is, it provides mobile access to the glossary without requiring practitioners to download a second app.

Glossary. In partnership with the Center for Nursing Excellence International, the FTCoE launched the Multidisciplinary Sexual Assault Glossary (https://forensiccoe.org/sexual-assault/) in November 2016. The database includes more than 3,500 terms and averages more than 4,000 visitors each month. During 2017, the Center worked on expanding the glossary to include terms in the areas of general sexual assault, human trafficking, child exploitation, child pornography, elder sexual assault, LGBTQ and death investigations involving sexual assault.

“When we started the project, we really focused on sexual assault investigations. As we have continued to build out the glossary, we have tried to go into other areas where there is overlap between law enforcement, labs and courts,” Ropero-Miller says.

The FTCoE efforts have received a boost from an increased focus on the need to standardize language and terminology from the National Forensic Science Commission, the Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the latter in a presentation to the American Academy of Forensic Sciences.

“As we said at launch, investigations are sensitive and the language used can vary greatly between different stakeholders. Now there’s really an impetus for standardization at the national level,” Ropero-Miller says. (See “Online Glossary Helps Professionals ‘Speak the Same Language’ About Sexual Assault, TechBeat, January 2017, https://www.justnet.org/InteractiveTechBeat/eTECHBEAT/eTechbeat_Jan_2017/content/pdf/eTechbeat_Jan_2017.pdf.)

Other projects. The FTCoE has a number of other projects related to sexual assault in the works, including:

  • Beyond DNA: The Impact of Physical Evidence in Sexual Assault Investigations. Due to be released in May 2018, this report helps inform the community on non-DNA sexual assault evidence types and best practices, including currently available technologies that can help.
  • Guidance Document on the Evidence Processing of Groping Cases. Coming in summer 2018, this document looks at criminal justice implications for investigating and prosecuting forensic evidence obtained from groping cases and instances where this type of case provided valuable DNA evidence.
  • “The Jurisdictional Return on Investment From Processing the Backlog of Untested Sexual Assault Kits,” a draft article presently in peer review, evaluates the impact of processing the backlog of untested sexual assault kits using data from the NIJ-supported FORESIGHT database. Written by Dr. Paul Speaker, an FTCoE collaborator from West Virginia University, this article is targeted for publication in a professional journal.

Additional projects are planned for the future, such as:

  • Knowledge transfer videos for remote and rural areas, in collaboration with the National Advocacy Center in Charleston, S.C.
  • Human Trafficking Best Practices Guidance Document for Advancing Research Initiatives and Combatting the Human Trafficking Epidemic.
  • A workforce calculator.
  • A validation repository.

“The sexual assault initiative is certainly going to remain a priority for us, as all of these new projects show,” Ropero-Miller says, “and of course we will continue to improve and expand on the glossary and the app.”

For more information on the programs of the FTCoE, contact Jeri Ropero-Miller at jerimiller@rti.org. For information on other projects in NIJ’s forensics portfolio, contact Gerald LaPorte, Director, Office of Investigative and Forensic Sciences, at Gerald.LaPorte@usdoj.gov.

Article photo: Have a nice day Photo/Shutterstock