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Sexual Assault Cold Case Program—Texas

The Dallas Police Department believes that justice is not served until crime victims are. The Department's Sexual Assault Unit created SEACAP (Sexual Assault Cold Case Program) to assist victims who were sexually assaulted during the 1970s and 1980s. The department understands that sexual assault is a life-changing event and that victims often need to know who attacked them before they can find a sense of safety or closure.

With DNA advances and the establishment of CODIS (Combined DNA Index System), technology now exists to solve sexual assault crimes committed by strangers. However, victims sexually assaulted in the 70s and 80s did not have the benefit of this technology to help identify their perpetrators. To assist victims, the unit will check the status of older cases at a victim's request. The following criteria must be met before law enforcement can conduct a cold case review:

  • The victim expresses interest in the status of the case.
  • The crime occurred between 1970 and 1990.      
  • The crime was reported to the Dallas Police Department.
  • The attacker was unknown.
  • A sexual assault examination was completed.
  • The police department took custody of a suspect's DNA source (e.g., condom, underwear).

Even though perpetrators cannot be prosecuted in cold cases because the statute of limitations has run out, the identification of sex offenders and the links to other cases can be valuable to the criminal justice system as well as to victims. The criminal justice system, for example, can use cold case DNA hits during parole eligibility hearings and the punishment phases of future criminal cases. Victims can write protest letters to parole boards regarding the release of their cold case offenders. This allows victims to have some power over the offender's future, even though the offender was not prosecuted for the victim's sexual assault.

It is important to note that the majority of the offenders identified through SEACAP were currently serving time in prison for unrelated crimes at the time of the cold hit.

The Dallas Police Department seeks to—

  • Help victims by providing them with answers to questions about their cold cases.
  • Solve cases and thus promote justice and empowerment for victims. For example, victims may request that the offender not be granted early release if the perpetrator is already serving time for another crime.

Making the Idea a Reality
This project was developed after victims asked about the status of their cases, some of which were almost 20 years old. As a result of the requests, the sergeant in charge of the Sexual Assault Unit pulled the old cases from archives and had DNA from the forensic exam kits analyzed and run through CODIS to find a match. After solving several cases this way, the unit developed SEACAP, which it introduced to the community with a press conference.

SEACAP refers victims for counseling as needed and also facilitates a victim-driven cold case support group at the Dallas Police Department. The victim services coordinator at the police department and a counselor from a nonprofit agency facilitate the group, which began when 11 of the first 12 victims in SEACAP expressed interest in attending monthly support group meetings where they could share information in a safe, confidential environment.

Benefits to Victims
SEACAP empowers victims with information and helps to reduce their fears about their unknown attackers. When cases are solved, victims often feel great relief. Also, when offenders are denied early parole based on cold hits, SEACAP prevents future offenses and thus enhances public safety.

Benefits to Victim Service Professionals
SEACAP helps victim service professionals understand the long-term effects of unsolved sexual assaults on victims. Also, SEACAP gives service providers the satisfaction of assisting victims in a way that facilitates recovery.

Evaluation Efforts
One example of a positive outcome of the program is a case in which the identified offender had his parole rescinded as a result of letters and calls from the victim and the police department. The offender's incarceration was extended 3 years just a few months before he was scheduled to be released.

Other efforts need to be evaluated once this program has been in effect for a longer period of time.

Lessons Learned

  • The Dallas Police Department has learned that sexual assault victims suffer long-term trauma, and that service providers need to provide assistance, services, support, and validation long after a crime occurs.
  • SEACAP staff learned that reopening cold cases creates victim ambivalence. Many want their cases to be solved, but at the same time, mixed feelings and emotions emerge that may confuse victims. The Cold Case Unit established a cold case victim support group to help victims cope with ambivalence and concerns.
  • SEACAP has strengthened victims' sense of safety and security. Some victims have expressed how important it is for them to know that someone cares, particularly someone at the law enforcement level.

Contact Information
Crimes Against Persons Division: Victim Services
Dallas Police Department
Pat Keaton, M.A., LBSW, LPC–I
Victim Services Coordinator