Thursday, February 21, 2013

DNA testing of sexual assault cases: Surmounting challenges in the Philippine setting

Adapted Article
Written by Jae Joseph Rodriguez, Rita Laude, PhD, Ma. Corazon de Ungria, PhD
STAR SCIENCE, Philippine Star

In the Philippines, conviction of sexual offenders mostly relies on testimonial evidence provided by the victim or the victim’s family, which may be prone to bias, subjectivity and fraud. Many cases involve child victims who are very young and are likely to be scared of informing others about the abuse.

DNA analysis provides the most powerful tool for human identification and has been in the Philippines since the late 1990s. Unfortunately, DNA testing has not been used routinely. The failure to properly collect, store and analyze biological samples had prolonged the suffering of a victim and her family. Moreover, other crimes could have been prevented had the real perpetrator been identified and incarcerated.

Because of the close, physical contact between victim and offender during an assault, biological material from the assailant is almost always left on the victim’s body. DNA collected from cases of sexual assault is usually in the form of mixtures, with the offender’s (or offenders’ as in the case of gang rape) DNA commingling with the victim’s DNA. If not properly handled and stored, DNA obtained may be degraded faster due to the tropical and humid environment in the country. A highly robust system for DNA testing of sexual assault cases from collection, handling, laboratory analysis and storage, is therefore necessary.