Research sponsored by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) found that potentially valuable forensic evidence in sexual assault cases has been sitting in police property rooms across the United States without being tested. These pieces of evidence have never been submitted to a crime laboratory for testing. Faced with this situation, NIJ issued a call for projects to not only understand why evidence was collected and never submitted to a crime laboratory, but also to take a broader view and study the complicated nature of sexual assault investigations and prosecutions. The Houston Police Department stepped forward and convened a diverse group of stakeholders who responded to the NIJ call for research. The project in Houston was funded and continues to work on these issues.
The research being performed in Houston is not an ordinary academic undertaking. It is an "action-research" project that explicitly involves multiple stakeholders in the process of diagnosing problems and then identifying appropriate responses. The project learns through research to improve existing processes. This approach is predicated on the idea that effective solutions demand a solid understanding of the context and sources of problems. The goals of the project include improving services for victims and holding offenders accountable.