June 6, 2020

Sexual Assault: Using Forensic Science to solve a case

By Avril Eyewu-Edero

This week there has been a lot of sad stories about sexual assaults in the news in Nigeria. This crime has continued to ruin a lot of lives, both male and female, and justice is usually a long shot.

It is important to define and understand the terminologies involved to be able to build a good legal case.

Sexual assault refers to sexual contact or behavior that takes place without the consent of the victim. Sexual assaults include attempted rape, forceful penetration (rape), non-consented sexual touches, fondling, and forceful oral sex.

READ ALSO: Forensic Analysis: Building up a case

Force in a sexual assault case is not just physical attack or pressure, it could be psychological or emotional coercion or force and threats or intimidation.

To build up a good case for the prosecution of sexual assault cases, Forensic science can play a huge role.

In a case of rape, for example, some of the legal elements to prove a case in court are establishing lack of consent, violence or use of force, age, injury, drug use, use of weapon or intimidation, the sexual activity carried out without permission given, restraint and other elements unique to the method of commission of the crime.

There are parts of these elements that Forensic science can address.

A sexual assault victim should immediately report to relevant authorities for examination and collection of evidence. In Lagos state, apart from the police, the Domestic and sexual violence response team does a great job with managing this process.

After a sexual assault is committed, it is important that the victim doesn’t wash up and report to the relevant authority (police, a 7 general hospital for medical examination or NGOs that are authorized to carry out medico-legal sexual assault examinations) immediately to ensure that the semen or vaginal swab is collected as soon as possible, as they are biological in nature and could degrade if not collected and preserved on time. The semen or vaginal swab can be used to develop a DNA profile that would match the perpetrator(s) when the perpetrator(s), either male or female is apprehended, and their DNA sample is collected for comparison.

Also, statements would be collected legally from the victim, a thorough examination to check for injuries and other evidence from head to toe is carried out and all medical checks are also carried out.

READ ALSO: Forensic science and the law

During a sexual assault, there could be a struggle. During this struggle, the victim could scratch the perpetrator thereby collecting DNA from their body. The DNA sample deposited in the fingernails could be collected during a sexual assault examination. Just like the DNA from semen and vaginal fluid, it could be used to develop a DNA profile of the suspect and compared it with the DNA of the suspect is apprehended.

The injuries found on both the victim and alleged perpetrators such as scratches, weapon marks, broken bones, and tissue damages can be analyzed and used as evidence to support a sexual assault case in court.

It is important to note that medical (Forensic analysis) conclusions are used in courts to provide evidence of sexual assaults. Medical officers that examined the victim should be willing to give evidence in a court of law as this goes a long way in determining the conviction or acquittal of an alleged perpetrator.

In a society where there seems to be a high number of sexual assault cases, victims of this crime will be encouraged to speak out if they see that there is a support system that ensures justice. So, it is recommended that the government continue to improve on the system in place to investigate this crime thoroughly.