Scientific letters

Forensic evidence preservation following an incident of rape: The role of the victim

Anthonio O. Adefuye, Chika K. Egenasi, Matthew O.A. Benedict
South African Family Practice | Vol 66, No 1 : Part 1| a5776 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/safp.v66i1.5776 | © 2024 Anthonio Oladele Adefuye, Chika Kennedy Egenasi, Matthew Abiodun Benedict | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 24 May 2023 | Published: 25 January 2024

About the author(s)

Anthonio O. Adefuye, Department of Basic Medical Sciences, College of Dental Medicine, Kansas City University, Joplin, United States of America; and Department of Health Sciences Education, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa
Chika K. Egenasi, Department of Family Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa
Matthew O.A. Benedict, Department of Family Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa

Abstract

Background: Rape has a high prevalence in South Africa. The collection of credible and valid forensic evidence is a key legal factor that impacts case trial outcomes. Victim behaviour around the time of the rape can impact the collection and the integrity of forensic evidence, and can have a direct effect on case progression and conviction. Despite the importance of victim behaviour, few studies have been done on the role of victims in preserving forensic evidence. This article discusses how common personal hygiene practices undertaken by rape victims after being raped can impact the quality and validity of forensic evidence. This investigation was done with the aim of elucidating the role of victims in preserving forensic evidence post rape.

Methods: This was a descriptive, retrospective clinical audit of all rape victims managed at Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe Hospital forensic unit in South Africa from 01 January 2020 to 31 March 2022.

Results: A total of 192 rape cases over the study period were included in this review. The median age of rape victims was 20 years (minimum 2 years; maximum 76 years). The majority (n = 178; 92.7%) of the victims were female. About 44.8% (n = 86) of the victims reported that they had urinated post-rape and prior to forensic examination, 20.8% (n = 40) had changed their clothing, 8.3% (n = 16) had showered, 6.8% (n = 13) had bathed, 4.2% (n = 8) had douched, and only 1.0% (n = 2) had defecated. Only 44 (22.9%) of the victims reported to have ingested alcohol or spiked drinks before the rape.

Conclusion: These findings suggest that some rape victims engaged in personal hygiene practices that could militate against forensic evidence preservation. This finding, therefore, indicates the need for public awareness about ways to preserve evidence to the greatest extent possible after an incident of rape.

Contribution: We provide simple guidelines for victims on the preservation of forensic evidence following rape and before detailed forensic medical examination and evidence collection.


Keywords

rape; rape victim; forensic evidence; forensic examination; evidence preservation; victim’s behaviour; public awareness; South Africa

Sustainable Development Goal

Goal 4: Quality education

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