Qualitative Fieldwork Within the Criminal Justice System: Emotions, Advocacy, and the Pursuit of Social Justice for Untested Sexual Assault Kits (SAKs)

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Qualitative fieldwork can be emotionally challenging for researchers. In this article, I reflect on my experiences conducting a mixed methods, multidisciplinary action research project with stakeholders in Detroit, Michigan to address the problem of thousands of untested sexual assault kits (SAKs) in that jurisdiction. To understand how and why police decided not to submit these kits for forensic DNA testing, my research team and I reviewed archival police records, interviewed law enforcement personnel, and conducted ethnographic observations over 4 years. Such in-depth engagement in research is bound to stir complex feelings, and in this article, I explore 3 touchpoint moments of intense emotionality that challenged traditional assumptions about the role of emotions and advocacy in social research.

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