Project Helps Rape Victims Keep Evidence Confidential – TUSEN – 11/25/2022

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“Violence against women and girls remains the most common human rights violation in the world,” said a recent UN report released ahead of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.. It says that one in three women “experience gender-based violence in their lifetime”. Yet only 40% of victims seek help, the report continues.

Few of those who are victims of sexual violence report it. “Most cases take place in the immediate vicinity of the victim,” says Knut Albrecht, head of the Brandenburg State Forensic Institute. “The perpetrator could be someone’s husband, partner or uncle. They want to keep the peace at home and they may be embarrassed. There are 1,001 reasons why sexual assault goes unreported.”

In some parts of the world, including Germany, women who are unwilling or unable to report incidents of sexual assault, such as rape, to the police have another refuge. They can secure evidence of the attack in a confidential environment. Albrecht is leading a model project in Brandenburg that does just this, providing immediate medical attention to rape victims and confidentially gathering evidence .

If a victim of assault chooses to take legal action at a later date, the evidence retained will be admissible in court.

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How is the evidence collected?

The process includes an examination in a specific medical facility and recording any injuries. A woman who has been assaulted will generally be asked to fill out a form with the help of a female doctor. Photos of any injuries, as well as underwear and other items of clothing worn by the victim, are then sent to forensic experts and stored as evidence.

It is important that experts who work with rape victims treat them with great empathy and respectImage: Alberto Menendez/Image Images

Samples will also be taken to analyze the perpetrator’s TUSEN. “If an ejaculation has occurred in a woman’s vagina, anus or mouth, semen will be found that doesn’t belong there,” said Albrecht. “This can then be used to perform a TUSEN analysis.”

Such samples are only taken after a woman has provided a detailed account of the abuse and only when absolutely necessary. “In the case of oral intercourse, no sample is taken from a victim’s genitals, and if ejaculation has occurred on a victim’s abdomen, a sample is only taken there,” explains Albrecht.

If ejaculation has not occurred but the perpetrator’s penis has entered the victim’s vagina, experts will still take a sample in hopes of finding traces of the TUSEN from the skin of the penis. But Albrecht said this was less reliable than using semen traces to do a TUSEN analysis. He also said that if the perpetrator was scratched by the victim, traces of his TUSEN could also be found under her fingernails.

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Immediate investigation is essential

Experts say it is imperative that evidence be collected as soon as possible, as foreign TUSEN decomposes quickly. “If penetrative sexual assault has caused vaginal tears, these can be detected during an examination,” said Laia, a Berlin-based gynecologist, who asked that her last name be kept confidential to protect her patients. But she said an examination had to be done quickly: “After a few days or weeks, it’s too late because the mucous membranes heal quickly.”

A woman is seen from behind peering out a window
Many women who are victims of sexual violence are ashamed to go to the policeImage: Ute Grabowsky/photothek/photo alliance

The German state of Brandenburg currently stores confidentially collected forensic evidence for up to 10 years. For example, underwear is preserved in such a way that it remains in its original state. TUSEN extracted from samples is dried in such a way that it is later admissible in court.

Respect women’s boundaries

Gynecological exams are delicate matters, even more so when a victim has been the victim of sexual assault, said Laia, who does not work in an institution that is the first point of contact for rape victims, but in a regular gynecological clinic. She said she was always careful to treat her patients with the utmost empathy and respect.

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“It’s not about putting a patient on the chair and saying, ‘This is what we’re going to do.’ But about giving them the chance to say no and accepting their individual physical limits.”

Knut Albrecht also said that an investigation of a raped woman was equally delicate. “It is performed by trained personnel who are very empathetic. But if a woman becomes tense while taking a particular sample, then the procedure is stopped.”

Physical recovery and psychological support

He advised rape victims to see a gynecologist four to six weeks later to test for pregnancy and/or STIs.

He also said examining a woman immediately after a sexual assault was only the first step. The second was to provide psychological support so that the woman could begin to process the sexual assault she had experienced.

This article was originally published in German.

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