What happens in a rape investigation? | Knowledge & Environment | DW

violence against women and girls is the “most pervasive type of human rights abuse in the world,” says a United Nations (UN) article on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. According to the UN, more than one in three women will be a victim of violence in their lifetime.

According to the UN, less than 40 percent of women who experience violence seek help. at sexualized violence for example, the number of victims who keep the act to themselves is high. “Most cases happen in the personal environment of the victim,” says Knut Albrecht, head of the Brandenburg State Institute for Forensic Medicine. “Maybe the perpetrator was the husband, the partner, the uncle. The women want to keep the domestic peace. The act is shameful. There are 1001 reasons why [ein sexueller Übergriff] is not displayed.”

For women who do not want to or cannot report an assault such as rape to the police, there is another option: you can have the traces secured in a confidential investigation. Albrecht is in charge of the model project in East German Brandenburg “Immediate medical aid and confidential securing of evidence after rape”.

The investigation is carried out in such a way that the traces would be admissible in court should the woman later decide to press charges.

What happens during the investigation?

Injuries of any kind are documented. There is a questionnaire that the doctor fills out together with the woman who came to the outpatient clinic after being raped. In addition to photos of possible injuries, the underwear that the woman was wearing is also included in the evidence box. The ambulance later sends this box to the coroner’s office for safekeeping.

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Swabs are taken to secure DNA samples from the perpetrator. “If an ejaculation occurs in the vagina, anally or in the woman’s mouth, there are sperm that don’t belong there,” explains Albrecht. “A DNA analysis can then be carried out on the basis of this sperm find.”

Swabs are only taken after the woman has told what happened, and then only where it is really necessary. “If there was oral sex, no swab is taken in the genital area, if there was an ejaculation on the stomach, the swab is taken from there,” says Albrecht.

If there was no ejaculation, but a penis entered the victim’s vagina, a swab is still taken in the hope of finding foreign DNA from the skin of the penis. However, this is much more difficult than with traces of sperm, explains Albrecht. If the victim scratched the perpetrator, their fingernails are also examined for DNA evidence.

Why an investigation is important even without immediate reporting

Securing evidence as soon as possible after a rape is important because evidence such as DNA is quickly degraded by the body’s own processes. Another reason: “If there have been injuries to the vagina as a result of sexual violence with penetration, they can be determined during an examination,” says gynecologist Laia from Berlin, who only wants to be called by her first name in order to protect her patients’ privacy protection. “After a few days or weeks that’s no longer possible because the mucous membranes heal quickly.”

The evidence of a confidential investigation in Brandenburg is currently being kept for ten years. Evidence such as underwear will be packaged to keep it in its original condition. The DNA material from the samples taken is dried in such a way that it easily lasts for ten years and could still be used in court if necessary.

Women’s physical limits are accepted

A gynecological examination is a sensitive moment anyway, and this applies even more when the woman has previously experienced sexual violence, says Laia. She herself does not work in an outpatient clinic where rape victims report, but in a regular gynecological practice. There, too, she pays attention to a sensitive and respectful approach, according to the gynecologist.

“It’s not about putting the woman in the chair and saying, ‘This is how it’s done’, it’s about giving the patient the opportunity to say no and accept their physical limitations,” says Laia.

Albrecht also says: In the investigation after a rape, the focus is on the woman. “The investigation is carried out by trained staff who are very sensitive,” says the head of the model project in Brandenburg. “If the woman tenses up with a certain smear, then it just won’t work, then it won’t be done.”

Physical and mental aftercare

Four to six weeks after the rape, the woman should see her gynecologist for a pregnancy test and get tested for various infectious diseases.

Even with the “medical emergency aid and confidential securing of evidence after rape” in Brandenburg, securing of evidence in the clinic is only the first step. After that, the women are also supported in their mental dealing with the sexual violence they have experienced. Further psychological counseling is part of the project.

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