Catching Perpetrators of Groping Sexual Assaults

In cases of groping sexual assaults, assailants often leave behind frustratingly little physical evidence by which they can be identified and prosecuted, or so it’s commonly believed. But it turns out, scientists can sometimes develop a full DNA profile using only the skin cells attackers shed on the victims they assault.

For the past 10 years, Julie Valentine, a professor of nursing at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, has helped put the state at the forefront of making touch DNA evidence collection a standard practice in groping cases.

“We really see this as being a gamechanger in adding something else to the toolbox for prosecuting sexual assault cases, which then leads to safer and healthier communities,” Dr. Valentine said.

Professor Valentine teamed up with forensic nurses and forensic scientists, supported by the National Institute of Justice and its Forensic Technology Center of Excellence to design a standard form for Utah sexual assault medical examiners to collect touch DNA evidence from survivors’ skin and clothing. The form now serves as a template nationwide.

Dr. Valentine and her colleagues have also launched a massive campaign to educate law enforcement agencies about collaborating with forensic nurses and scientists in groping cases. They’ve conducted over 100 training sessions so far.

“We hope that encouraging law enforcement to have touch DNA collected will increase justice in these cases,” Dr. Valentine said. “But we also want to emphasize that groping sexual assaults are traumatic events in an individual’s life. Having survivors meet with a forensic nurse and a sexual assault survivor advocate validates to those survivors that they’ve experienced something traumatic and that we are here to help you heal.”

Professor Valentine is a graduate of the University of Arizona. She earned a master’s degree in nursing education from the University of Utah and a Ph.D. in forensic nursing from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.

Filed Under: Research/StudySexual Assault/Harassment


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