Rebecca Campbell, Michigan State University

Shelving Justice: Understanding the Problem of Untested Sexual Assault Kits (SAKs) in Detroit, MI
Rebecca Campbell


Winter 2018
Lecture Time: 
Friday, March 23, 2018 - 1:30pm to 3:00pm
Lecture Location: 
R0220 Ross School of Business
Introduced By: 
Kelsie Thorne


In August 2009, approximately 11,000 untested sexual assault kits (SAKs) (also termed “rape kits”) were discovered in a Detroit police department storage facility. The Detroit Sexual Assault Kit (SAK) Action Research Project (ARP) was formed to study the underlying reasons why police were not submitting rape kits for testing, and to develop evidence-based testing plans. This multidisciplinary team included researchers, law enforcement personnel, prosecutors, forensic scientists, rape victim advocates, mental health professionals, and state policy makers. In this presentation, I will share the results of a thirty-year historical analysis to understand why Detroit had so many untested SAKs. Informed by ecological systems theory and based on data from stakeholder interviews, ethnographic observations, archival records, and a review of 1,268 police reports, I will describe how chronic scarcity created a psychological mindset that not all victims could be helped or should be helped. I will also discuss how this research led to policy changes at the local, state, and national level regarding rape kit testing.

Recording & Additional Notes

Dr. Rebecca Campbell is a Professor of Psychology at Michigan State University. For the past 25 years, she has been conducting community-based research on violence against women and children, with an emphasis on sexual assault. Dr. Campbell’s research examines how contact with the legal and medical systems affects adult, adolescent, and pediatric victims’ psychological and physical health. Most recently, she was the lead researcher for the National Institute of Justice-funded Detroit Sexual Assault Kit Action Research Project, which was a four-year multidisciplinary study of Detroit's untested rape kits. Dr. Campbell also conducts training for law enforcement and multidisciplinary practitioners in civilian, military, and campus community settings on the neurobiology of trauma. In 2015, Dr. Campbell received the Department of Justice, Office for Victims of Crime, Vision 21 Crime Victims Research Award.