FEATURED IN INVESTIGATION
In the June issue, the first installment of this series on investigating the crime of rape discussed legal definitions, the importance of care in handling the initial contact with a rape victim and the goals for searching the crime scene. I pointed out successful prosecution of the crime often hinges on associative evidence collaborating a rape occurred and linking a suspect to the scene and/or the victim. This second part focuses on the types of evidence investigators might collect and analyze at the crime scene and from the victim.
Evidence Identification & Collection On Scene
Physical evidence is anything tangible that can establish a crime was committed or link the crime and the victim and/or the perpetrator and the victim. However, collection of physical evidence requires an investigator to first recognize such evidence. Further, the value of evidence is limited in court unless investigators take care to properly collect, preserve and analyze it. Although many departments employ specialized personnel to process crime scenes, all police officers should possess a thorough knowledge of their crime laboratory's forensic capabilities and understand the importance of securing and collecting evidence. While there is no substitute for training and experience, the collection and preservation of crime-scene evidence is not just the purview of evidence technicians and detectives. Except in very complex cases, the average police officer is capable of reconstructing the scene of the crime and conducting a systematic search for evidence. As I explained in my previous column, in a rape there are two crime scenes: the location where the rape took place and the rape victim's physical person, including the clothing worn by the victim and the perpetrator.
Studies indicate up to 80 percent of rapes occur indoors, and the majority of cases involve some type of relationship between the victim and perpetrator. Unless it's a stranger-to-stranger rape case, the perpetrator often claims intercourse was consensual, and without any associative evidence to the contrary, the victim's word is pitted against the perpetrator's claims. So, investigators should photograph and videotape any sign of a struggle at the scene, such as broken furniture or other objects and items in disarray. Further evidence of a struggle includes injury to the victim; these photographs are normally taken at the hospital.
Preserve the bedding, or any other object on which the rape took place, and send it to the crime lab for analysis. The contact between the victim and the perpetrator may have resulted in the transfer of physical evidence in the form of semen, blood, hairs, skin fibers or other trace evidence, which will prove vital in identifying the assailant and/or prosecuting the case. Properly collect all such evidence, including the clothing and undergarments worn by the victim. Evidence technicians use oblique and ultraviolet light to help spot hair and fibers, and blue light to assist in detecting semen.
One discrepancy between books on forensic science and real-life investigations is the suggestion the victim should be asked to disrobe over a clean cloth or bed sheet so any fibers or loose pubic hairs from the perpetrator can be properly collected. In an ideal world, this would be the perfect way to collect this type of evidence. However, only in the mind of the scientist or academician do rapes occur in a sterile environment conducive to this type of evidence collection. Although most rapes do occur inside, the crime scene may be the stairway of large apartment building, the bathroom of a bar or nightclub, the inside of a vehicle or some other location not conducive to this type of evidence gathering. Whether the victim is suffering from shock, lying in a fetal ball or is otherwise injured from her attacker, our first responsibility is to provide the victim with medical attention at a hospital. Even if the victim were able to disrobe at the scene, this must be conducted by a female police officer. Since female officers make up only about 12 percent of police forces nationally, a female officer may not be readily available to provide this type of evidence collection.
In the majority of cases, a search of the victim's clothing for crime evidence is done at the hospital. This is often a better setting in which to ask the victim to disrobe, take photographs of any injuries to her body and place each article of clothing in a separate container for later lab analysis. The chain of custody of evidence is vital, so a police officer must accompany the victim to the hospital, meaning an officer must ride in the ambulance with the victim.
The Medical Examination
Even if your department employs personnel who specialize in investigating rape crimes, not all hospitals are equal when it comes to conducting the necessary type of medical examination. Hospitals in large cities often staff medical personnel with specialized training in the physical examinations required, as well as rape counselors who can provide psychological services for the victim. Smaller communities may have only one hospital, which may not be able to provide that level of service.
- Investigating Rape Crimes, Part 1 of 5
- Investigating Rape Crimes, Part 3 of 5
- Investigating Rape Crimes, Part 4 of 5
- Investigating Rape Crimes, Part 5 of 5