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An Audit Report on Investigation and Prosecution Processes for Reported Sexual Assaults in Texas

October 2020

Summary Analysis

The investigation and prosecution of reported incidents of adult and child sexual assaults face many challenges throughout the criminal justice process. Based on statewide data related to sexual assaults, interviews, site visits, and survey responses, auditors identified some of the leading reasons a reported incident of sexual assault may not lead to an arrest of a suspect or prosecution of an offender. Those include:

  • Collecting evidence to determine whether a suspect committed a sexual assault may be difficult.
  • A victim of a sexual assault may be reluctant to participate in the investigation and prosecution process.
  • Key differences in the investigation and prosecution procedures for sexual assaults involving adult and child victims may affect how a sexual assault case progresses through the criminal justice system.

These challenges can impede efforts by local law enforcements’ and district attorneys’ offices’ to promptly arrest and then prosecute an offender for sexual assault.

Best Practices

Some local law enforcement and district attorneys’ offices indicated that they have adopted certain nationally recognized best practices and implemented other actions to help address those challenges.

Statewide Data Limitations

Auditors determined that there is not comprehensive statewide data collected on adult and child sexual assaults in Texas that provides complete information on the progress of a reported sexual assault through the investigation and prosecution processes of the criminal justice system.

 Jump to Overall Conclusion

Reported sexual assaults may proceed through key stages in the criminal justice system: incident reporting and intake, investigation, prosecution, and court disposition.

Jump to Chapter 1-A 

Auditors’ procedures included conducting site visits at selected local law enforcement agencies, district attorneys’ offices, and district clerks’ offices, conducting interviews with community-based advocacy organizations, and surveying 1,630 entities throughout Texas. The questions in the surveys were designed to collect responses similar to the information gained during the site visits so that auditors could summarize the results at a statewide level for this report.

Jump to Chapter 1-B 

During site visits, local law enforcement and district attorneys’ offices indicated that they rely on the evidence that is collected from (1) victim and witness statements and (2) forensic analysis to help decide whether to arrest and prosecute a suspect for sexual assault. In addition, they explained the evidence collected should help confirm the identity of the suspect and show that the suspect committed a sexual assault. However, in both interviews and survey responses, detectives and prosecutors identified challenges related to collecting that evidence. Specifically:

  • For sexual assaults that involve an adult victim, proving that a suspect acted without consent may be difficult.
  • The collection and forensic analysis of the evidence in a sexual assault kit is a lengthy process, which can delay the decision on whether to arrest and charge a suspect for sexual assault.

Jump to Chapter 2-A 

In their survey results, most community-based advocacy organizations indicated that adult victims reported sexual assaults to law enforcement agencies less than 50 percent of the time. Additionally, the results from site visits and survey responses from many local law enforcement and district attorneys’ offices identified the lack of victim cooperation as a significant challenge to investigating and prosecuting sexual assaults.

There can be multiple reasons for why a victim may decide not to participate in the investigation and prosecution processes. Survey responses from community-based advocacy organizations and interviews with detectives and prosecutors identified various factors for why some victims are unwilling to be involved in investigation and prosecution process. The leading factors cited by the community-based advocacy organizations, detectives, and prosecutors during site visits and in surveys included fear, embarrassment, and distrust of the criminal justice system.

Jump to Chapter 2-B 

The operational structure of local law enforcement and district attorneys’ offices can influence how effectively and efficiently a sexual assault case is managed as it progresses through the criminal justice system. Law enforcement agencies and district attorneys’ offices interviewed identified significant differences between the investigation and prosecution procedures followed for a sexual assault that involves a child victim and those followed for an adult victim, including the resources available to perform those procedures. Those differences can put investigations of sexual assaults of adults at a disadvantage in terms of how efficiently and effectively a thorough investigation can be performed, according to detectives and prosecutors interviewed.

Jump to Chapter 2-C 

Site visits and responses to the SAO survey showed that generally local law enforcement and district attorneys’ offices have written policies and procedures in place to provide guidance on specific investigation and prosecution activities related to sexual assaults (such as the collection and submission of evidence, preparing investigation reports, and informing victims of their right to information about their sexual assault case). Local law enforcement and district attorneys’ offices indicated that they have also taken actions, including adopting certain nationally recognized best practices, to help address the challenges encountered when investigating and prosecuting sexual assaults. Those actions included:

  • Training staff on victim-centered/trauma-informed practices for engaging victims of sexual assault.
  • Improving communication and coordination of investigation and prosecution activities by participating in sexual assault response teams.
  • Creating specialized units for investigating and prosecuting sexual assault crimes.

Jump to Chapter 2-D 

Texas Government Code, Section 411.042 (h), requires law enforcement agencies to collect and report certain information on incidents of sexual assault that are specific to Texas Penal Code, Sections 22.011 (sexual assault) and 22.021 (aggravated sexual assault). Law enforcement agencies report information on adult and child sexual assault incidents as part of DPS’ Uniform Crime Reporting Program collection of state mandated, sexual assault incident data. However, auditors identified limitations with that data. Specifically:

  • Law enforcement agencies are not required to report the outcome of their sexual assault investigations to DPS.
  • Sexual assault incidents that are statutorily required to be reported to DPS cannot be matched to arrest, prosecution, and court disposition data in CCH.
  • Statewide data on sexual assault incidents was not consistently accurate and complete.

Jump to Chapter 3-A 

Auditors analyzed the data related to sexual assaults in the Computerized Criminal History System (CCH), as well as tested samples of specific arrest, prosecution, and court data records in that system for accuracy and completeness. While statewide data on arrests and court dispositions were reasonably accurate and complete for audit purposes, the statewide data on prosecution actions in CCH was incomplete. Specifically, of 16,207 court dispositions for arrest charges recorded in CCH during the five-year scope of the audit, 4,555 (28.1 percent) did not have related prosecution records. This shows that the prosecution records in CCH are not complete. As a result, there is a significant risk that some of the arrest charges recorded in CCH have missing prosecutor records that should have been submitted.

Jump to Chapter 3-B 

Auditors examined statewide data on adult and child sexual assaults in Texas from January 1, 2014, through December 31, 2018, from the Uniform Crime Reporting Program and the Computerized Criminal History System.

Below is a summary of the key results of auditors’ analysis of the available statewide data on reported sexual assault incidents and arrests charges from 2014 through 2018:

  • There was a significant difference between the number of reported sexual assault incidents and the number of arrest charges for sexual assaults.
  • There were 71,274 sexual assault incidents reported to law enforcement agencies from 2014 through 2018 (see Chapter 4-A).

    Jump to Chapter 4-A 

  • There were 23,422 arrest charges for sexual assault from 2014 through 2018. Of those arrest charges, 15,825 (68 percent) involved child victims and 7,597 (32 percent) involved adult victims (see Chapter 4-B).

    Jump to Chapter 4-B 

  • Nearly 70 percent of the arrest charges for sexual assault filed had a court disposition (see Chapter 4-C).

    Jump to Chapter 4-C 

  • Most arrest charges that had a court disposition either resulted in a conviction or were dismissed (see Chapter 4-D).

    Jump to Chapter 4-D 

  • Of the total arrest charges for sexual assault filed from 2014 through 2018, 75 percent were prosecuted according to the original offense charge and felony level (see Chapter 4-E).

    Jump to Chapter 4-E 

Jump to Chapter 4 

While the 86th Legislature passed several bills related to improving the investigation and prosecution processes for sexual assaults (see Appendix 4), additional opportunities exist to continue improving (1) how sexual assaults are investigated and prosecuted and (2) how statewide data on sexual assaults is collected. To address the issues discussed in this report more fully, legislative action may be necessary to make changes to processes currently used by state agencies, local law enforcement, and district attorneys’ offices. The following are areas to consider:

  • Examining issues surrounding consent.
  • Determining the extent to which multi-disciplinary team approach and forensic interviewing techniques should be used for investigations and prosecutions of sexual assaults of adult victims.
  • Improving data collection on reported incidents of sexual assault to track how sexual assaults progress through the criminal justice system.

Additionally, survey respondents offered ideas on how to improve the investigation, prosecution, and reporting processes for sexual assaults.

Jump to Chapter 5 

Graphics, Media, Supporting documents

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