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"IT MADE ME FEEL LIKE SOMEONE WASN'T DOING THEIR JOB:" SEXUAL ASSAULT KIT (SAK) VICTIM NOTIFICATIONS AND INSTITUTIONAL BETRAYAL BY THE CRIMINAL LEGAL SYSTEM.

In the United States, sexual assault survivors are advised to have a medical forensic exam and the collection of a sexual assault kit (SAK) to preserve biological evidence (e.g. semen, blood, saliva, hair) if they are considering reporting the assault to the police. Law enforcement personnel are supposed to submit the SAK (also known as a "rape kit") to a crime laboratory for forensic DNA testing, which can help identify or confirm the identity of the offender. However, police do not routinely submit SAKs for testing, and large stockpiles of untested kits have been found in police storage throughout the United States. Public outrage has prompted many cities to submit these older rape kits for DNA analysis, and this testing has identified thousands of suspected perpetrators. Police and prosecutors are re-opening these older sexual assault cases, which requires reestablishing contact with survivors who made the initial report years ago - a process referred to as "victim notification." In this study, we conducted qualitative interviews with survivors who received a SAK victim notification and participated in the re-investigation and prosecution of their cases. We explored how survivors reacted to this de facto admission of an institutional betrayal and the emotions they felt during and after the notification. Participants experienced considerable emotional distress (e.g. PTSD, anxiety, fear), anger and betrayal, and hope after they were recontacted by the police. Implications for making victim notifications more trauma informed are discussed.

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