College of Science and Health Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award

Spring 6-11-2021

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Megan R. Greeson, PhD

Second Advisor

Molly M. Brown, PhD


Attrition rates in sexual assault cases remain high despite reforms over the past 30 years (Smith et al., 2018). Evidence suggests the locus of case attrition lies with police decision-making (Spohn & Tellis, 2019). Community-level factors may improve or bias police decisions in sexual assault cases; however, this has yet to be examined. Thus, the purpose of this study was to understand community-level factors that predict police decisions to found a sexual assault case. Founding is the first decision officers make and determines whether a case will be investigated. This study used official available records of sexual assaults reported to a large midwestern police department from 2013 to 2017. These records show whether cases were founded and provide information about the geographic location of the assault. OLS regression was used to examine the relationship between four community-level factors and founding rates in the city’s 77 community areas: 1) presence of a rape crisis center in the community; 2) proportion of Black residents; 3) proportion of Hispanic/Latinx residents; and 4) median household income. Results reveal that police are significantly more likely to found cases in communities with a greater proportion of Black residents, communities with a greater proportion of Hispanic/Latinx residents, and communities with higher incomes. These findings are examined in relation to literature on sexual assault case attrition and racialized policing practices. Overall, this study suggests the need for further multilevel research to untangle how individual-, case-, and community-level factors influence each step of the criminal justice system in sexual assault cases.

SLP Collection


Included in

Psychology Commons