Sexual offences Tag

Torn or cut? – Examining damage to clothing

cut or tear damage to woven fabric

In some cases, the need to examine damage to clothing may be evident, for example in a stabbing scenario. Here the scientist might examine stab cuts and potentially consider whether they may have been made with a specific weapon for example.  However, there are other situations where the examination of damage might be overlooked but may provide useful information.  In an alleged sexual offence it is usual to examine underwear and other clothing for the presence of semen (and other relevant body fluids depending on the scenario) and to attempt to obtain a DNA profile of the offender. But even where it is alleged that clothing has been removed forcibly, damage is less often considered.

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Use it or Lose it: Is expertise in some body fluid examinations being lost?

Yellow stain on cream fabric - Forensic body fluid analysis includes tests for urine stains As body fluid examinations have become heavily focused on the ability to obtain a DNA profile, the expertise in analysis and interpretation of tests for some of the more rarely encountered body fluids, including urine and faeces, has become limited.  Some of the main forensic providers no longer offer this testing under their UKAS Accreditation.  In a case, reviewed by Forensic Context, in which there was an allegation of the offender urinating onto the clothing of the complainant, the lack of any testing for urine was questioned by the defence and clarity sought as to whether testing was possible or simply not offered by the prosecution provider.

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When did sexual intercourse occur?

Spermatozoa viewed under a microscope (x400 magnification)

Given the nature of sexual offences, the case presented to court is often confined to one person’s word against another.  Disputed versions of events can sometimes differ in only minor ways.  In some sexual offences the timing of an act of sexual intercourse can be a crucial piece of evidence, for example if there was a consensual act with a partner prior to an alleged rape. At Forensic Context we specialise in sexual offences and our experts can provide an opinion about the time range in which sexual intercourse may have taken place, although it is never possible to say exactly when it occurred.  We can also assist with whether intercourse is more likely to have occurred at time A rather than time B.

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Washing out the stains

Clothing in a washing machine - can washing remove semen stains?

Locating semen stains on clothing usually relies initially on a chemical screening test followed by a microscopic examination for spermatozoa (sperm cells) to confirm the presence of semen. But are the tests used sensitive enough to detect semen after an item has been washed?

The term ‘washed’ can mean many different things ranging from a quick rinse, a full wash cycle in a washing machine or soaking and then washing for example.  How long the item is immersed in water, the type of detergent and temperature used will have some effect on whether semen can be detected afterwards. A scientist will need to be given as much information as possible about the type of washing used so that they can advise on the likelihood of detecting any staining and decide what tests and strategy they should employ.  This is also relevant when an expert is asked to comment on whether stains are likely to be found on a washed item, and whether the laboratory testing was appropriate. 

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DNA transfer through non-intimate contact

Intertwined male and female symbols representing intimate contact

In sexual offence cases where no semen is detected, the presence of female DNA on penile swabs and underwear of the defendant may be put forward to address the issue of whether or not sexual intercourse took place.  However it is known that DNA can be transferred through non-intimate contact so research was commissioned to investigate the frequency and amount of DNA which might be transferred in this way.  The work was recently published in Science and Justice by the UK and Ireland Association of Forensic Science Providers’ Body Fluid Forum which our expert Julie Allard co-chaired at the time of the research.
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Streamlined Forensic Reporting – the hidden truth

Dictionary entry for evidence - forensic evidence is now commonly reported using streamlined forensic reportsStreamlined Forensic Reporting (SFR) was rolled out nationally in April 2013.  The CPS guidance document states that  “SFR is a revised case management procedure for producing forensic evidence at court, which seeks to reduce unnecessary costs, and delay in the criminal justice system. The process takes a more proportionate approach to forensic evidence through the early preparation of a short report that details the key forensic evidence the prosecution intend to rely upon.  The aim is to achieve early agreement with the defence on forensic issues but where this cannot be achieved in the first instance, to identify the contested issues.”

The first stage SFR1 report is not a witness statement or report to which the Criminal Procedure Rules apply.  It is, at this stage, difficult for the defence to determine whether they dispute the evidence being provided as the information that the SFR1 provides is often nothing more than a bland description of the analytical result, with little if any background or interpretational information.  READ MORE