2013-2014 Accomplishments Policy and Advocacy Victim Notification

Victim Notification

We have been conducting research to develop recommendations for how best to re-engage survivors whose rape kits were part of the backlog. As public pressure to end rape kit backlogs across the country continues to mount, law enforcement agencies across the country are working to address their backlogs. But in their efforts to process the untested kits in their custody, informed decisions about how best to notify survivors are often neglected.

The purpose of the Rape Kit Backlog Victim Notification Project is to create a set of “best practice” recommendations for law enforcement working to clear their backlogs. Through research conducted in partnership with Dr. Courtney Ahrens of California State University at Long Beach (CSULB), and Joyful Heart’s forthcoming report, we are bringing together the voices of law enforcement and crime lab personnel, system and community victim advocates and survivors into a single study. We are creating survivor-centric, trauma-informed and practical recommendations that jurisdictions nationwide can put into practice.

 “Let me say how truly grateful I am that you
do the work you do. It is so refreshing and
healing to feel seen and heard, and to know that progress is being made on the backlog,
largely through your efforts.”

- Survivor Focus Group Participant

This year has seen the completion of three critical phases of this research. In January, in partnership with the researchers from CSULB, the Advocacy and Healing teams recruited and hosted a group of rape survivors whose kits had been part of the backlog for a focus group, conducted in the context of our healing retreat model. Our goal was to inform our research on victim notification with survivor perspectives and recommendations, and to answer questions such as when notification should occur, who should deliver notifications and how, what information notifications should convey and how often follow- up should occur. Following the focus group, Dr. Ahrens and the CSULB researchers conducted individual interviews with the participating survivors to gain an even deeper understanding of the concepts explored during the retreat.

To identify the most promising recommendations that emerged from the survivor focus group and interviews—as well as the 88 expert interviews Joyful Heart previously conducted with law enforcement and advocacy professionals—the research team utilized a statistical procedure known as Concept Mapping. This process compiled all non-redundant recommendations, sorted them into conceptually meaningful categories and finally, rated them based on importance and feasibility.

The results of this research and analysis will provide a critical foundation for our Rape Kit Backlog Victim Notification Project. Our report is currently being reviewed by the researchers and key stakeholders, and we plan to release it this fall.


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