Navigating justice for sexual assault survivors
March 29, 2019 | Human ID and Forensics

Navigating justice for sexual assault survivors

Investigating and prosecuting sexual assault crimes is much more challenging than merely performing DNA testing [1]. Moreover, a vast majority of perpetrators of sexual violence walk away scot-free, either because of a large number of unreported cases [2] or, if reported, evidential material frequently spends years waiting for processing in laboratory backlogs. Even when processed, there is often a lack of informative and conclusive results from complex DNA evidence.

Advances in DNA technology have improved how we investigate cases and interpret forensic evidence. In some cases, DNA can provide factually irrefutable proof; therefore, more and more criminal investigators including the criminal justice system are turning to forensic scientists and laboratories for accelerated casework – perform testing, interpret results, render conclusions, and testify in court.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month

While “I Ask” champions the message that asking for consent is necessary, we wanted to reinforce the fact that asking for justice is also the fundamental right of every victim or survivor.

“Victims of sexual assault should have confidence that their voices are heard and that all resources are brought to bear in the pursuit, prosecution, and conviction of those criminals responsible for these unconscionable acts. Any backlog of untested sexual assault kits in the City of Memphis undermines this confidence, especially for those whose cases remain unsolved.”
A C Wharton, Jr. Mayor, Mayor of Memphis (2009–2015)

QIAGEN’s fight against sexual violence

We are partnering with forensic scientists worldwide and empowering those tasked with investigating complicated cases and bringing closure, by streamlining sexual assault workflow.

Even with forensic DNA testing being the gold standard in sexual assault cases, casework backlogs, inconclusive results from challenging mixtures, degraded or low levels of DNA, and presence of inhibitors often impede successful completion of necessary casework. Samples often contain mixtures of body fluids from the victim and offender(s), and the accused often argues for a legitimate reason for his DNA being present on the victim (e.g., skin cells from a handshake, rather than sperm cells from sexual activity). Therefore, it is critical to identify the tissue source, as sperm cells can be separated from female cellular material or epithelial cells, improving cell mixture deconvolution. DNA evidence has the power to identify the assailant(s), but reliable identification of the sperm, efficient sample lysis and careful separation are essential.

A complete DNA profile can help accurately discriminate between different individuals, by matching profiles against potential suspects or a DNA database. However, the success of forensic DNA profiling can be ensured only by implementing an efficient workflow capable of handling the typically high volume of samples submitted, as well as following a sensitive and precise quantification of total human and male DNA, and degradation assessment of both male and total human DNA. Based on such information, forensic examiners can decide whether further sample purification is needed.

Visit our Sexual Assault Awareness Month webpage and find out how we can help.

  • Learn how QIAGEN solutions are streamlining sexual assault case workflow
  • Hear how labs are streamlining assault cases with the aim of reducing backlogs
  • Read how you can generate quality results and gain confidence in your evidence

Will advancements in DNA technology help overcome challenges with sexual assault evidence? Download latest infographic to learn more about our Sample to Insight solutions designed to accelerate your sexual assault case workflow and serve justice to those who cases remain unsolved!


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Kurchi Bhattacharya

Kurchi Bhattacharya

Kurchi Bhattacharya, Ph.D. is a Senior Content Marketing Manager at QIAGEN, and is responsible for creating compelling content for multichannel marketing campaigns, product launches, and events, with a particular focus on human ID and forensics. Before joining QIAGEN in 2016, she has had a pan-continental scientific research experience during her undergraduate and graduate studies. In 2015, she received her Ph.D. from the University of Cologne, Germany, specializing in molecular biology and biochemistry. After that, Kurchi continued working as a postdoctoral researcher at the same university and in parallel started acquiring skills in the field of science communication.