About my research

For over 13 years, my research has focused on applied research and evaluation, working with criminal justice practitioners, community-based organizations and foundations, and public and social service systems to examine violent behavior primarily directed at women and girls, including sexual assault, human trafficking, and intimate partner violence. Over the last ten years, I have focused on violence and victimization issues faced locally—Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, and Northeast Ohio—as an applied researcher with a successful record of community collaborations on funded initiatives.

As detailed below, my research can be categorized into three different types of scholarship.

Sexual assault and the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI)

Since early 2015, I have directed several large action research projects to examine untested sexual assault kits (SAKs), also known as rape kits, in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, Cleveland, Ohio, and Akron, Ohio in collaboration with the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office, the Cleveland Division of Police, and the Akron Police Department (respectively). Since 2013, the Cuyahoga County Sexual Assault Kit Task Force, led by the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office, has been following up via investigation and prosecution on the DNA testing of approximately 7,000 untested kits. In 2018, Akron’s SAK Initiative began following up on approximately 1,800 now-tested kits. In 2021, the Cleveland Division of Police completed inventorying nearly 3,000 kits and submitted for forensic testing all kits remaining in its possession—all of which are outside of the statute of limitations and therefore unable to be prosecuted.

Unfortunately, Northeast Ohio is not unique in its possession of so many untested kits. Nationwide, hundreds of thousands of kits have languished for decades, untested, in evidence storage facilities. The existence of such a large number of kits that were never submitted for testing highlights the criminal justice system’s inadequate response to sexual assault. Moreover, untested kits are missed opportunities to identify unknown offenders, confirm the identity of known offenders, connect offenders to previously unsolved crimes, possibly exonerate innocent suspects, and populate the federal DNA database. As a result of the funded research under the SAKI, where I have served as PI since 2015, my research team and I have collected the largest known database in the US of sexual assaults that captures such extensive, historical data about the sexual assaults, forensic testing, offenders and their criminal histories, victims, investigations, and prosecutions.

As an extension of the SAKI, since 2016, I have served as the PI on the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office Lawfully “Owed” DNA Initiative. In collaboration with the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office, we have identified significant issues in Cuyahoga County around collecting lawfully owed DNA samples and are working to implement effective policies and practices to help ensure that all who should lawfully have their DNA collected and uploaded into the federal DNA database do.

Sexual assault and other gender-based violence research

Connected to my work on SAKI, I am currently PI on an investigator-initiated $770,000 National Institute of Justice-funded study (2018-VA-CX-0002) entitled “Using Sentiment Analysis and Topic Modeling in Assessing the Impact of Police Signaling on Investigative and Prosecutorial Outcomes in Sexual Assault Reports.” We are using machine learning technology to analyze the narratives of nearly 6,000 sexual assault police reports from the Cleveland Division of Police over almost two decades for “signaling” language regarding a victim’s credibility—or innuendo indicating their disbelief of the victim’s claims. Machine learning technology is a type of artificial intelligence that iteratively teaches computer software to detect language patterns. In this research project, these detected textual patterns will be used in predictive modeling to determine if signaling impacted case outcomes. 

In addition to research related to sexual assault (i.e., SAKI, NIJ-funded study on rape reports), I am also actively conducting criminological research on intimate partner sexual assault and human trafficking. I currently have two funded human trafficking projects and one pending proposal in collaboration with the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center (CRCC), discussed in greater detail in the publications, grants, and funding section below. Also, I continue to be actively engaged in the anti-human sex trafficking community in Cleveland.

Violent crime and forensic intelligence

Within an intersection of violent crime and forensics, I have led several research projects that explore forensic intelligence—exploring how forensics is informing criminal investigations and prosecution. This includes leading several funded research projects under BJA’s Innovative Prosecution Solutions initiative with Crime Strategies Unit within the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office. This unit focuses on identifying and combatting violent crime in the County—in particular, gun violence.

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