As prosecutors, we are constantly working to improve our response to sexual violence. We strive to be leaders in the effort to improve the response of the criminal justice system as whole-to promote safety and healing for victims, to hold offenders justly accountable, and to make our communities safer. To those ends, we collaborate with allied professionals to coordinate our efforts and close gaps in the system, we leverage specialized resources and training opportunities, and we implement promising new practices while refining established ones.
But how do we measure our progress? How do we know whether we are succeeding in our efforts to improve our handling of sexual assault cases? Historically, conviction rates have been used as the primary measure of "success" for law enforcement and prosecutors. What we have learned, however, is that conviction rates alone are poor indicators of the success of a jurisdiction's response to these crimes. We know, for example, that difficult or complex cases may be "weeded out" before trial-and sometimes even before arrest or charging-resulting in a deceptively high conviction rate for those cases that survive pretrial proceedings. This is rarely the result of conscious or callous disregard for victim and community safety. Rather, it is most often the result of failure to effectively employ practices that lead to the most just result possible for even the most challenging cases. Conviction rates simply do not capture other, more elusive but still measurable, factors related to the quality of justice.
AEquitas convened a Roundtable on Prosecutorial Performance Beyond Conviction Rates in Sexual Assault Cases to discuss the elements of effective prosecution and the limitations of using conviction rates as the sole measure of success in sexual assault cases. The discussion generated foundational ideas around alternative ways to measure the effectiveness of prosecution practices and policies. Ideas generated at the Roundtable, along with the tireless work of prosecutors and allied professionals across the country, were instrumental in the genesis of The Sexual Assault Justice Initiative (SAJI).
SAJI is a partnership among AEquitas, the Justice Management Institute (JMI), and the Urban Institute. The Initiative was funded in July 2016 by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women (OVW). The goal of SAJI is to develop and implement a set of performance measures for sexual assault prosecutions. These measures will target accountability-related outputs and outcomes, such as appropriateness of sentence, support for victims, and victim satisfaction, rather than focusing solely on conviction rates. With a method to evaluate these outcomes, we can develop and refine sustainable prosecution practices that contribute to success in these cases. SAJI will implement and test the effectiveness of these measures and practices in seven pilot-site jurisdictions.
SAJI presents a unique opportunity to not only measure success but to improve how the justice system in general, and prosecution in particular, responds to sexual assault cases. To that end, AEquitas and its partners have developed the Model Response to Sexual Violence for Prosecutors: An Invitation to Lead (RSVP Model) to guide prosecution practices. The RSVP Model promotes the effective use of available evidence and employment of trial strategies, while stressing the importance of collaboration and coordination among allied professionals. The RSVP Model serves as the foundation for the development of easy-to-implement performance measures that the seven pilot sites will test. The Model, including a set of performance measures, and additional resources (including an Implementation Guide), are being published throughout the SAJI to enable any jurisdiction to improve its response to sexual violence.