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Prof. receives funding for research to aid assault victims

DEDICATED: Dr. Candice Bridge

DR. CANDICE Bridge, joint professor at the University of Central Florida (UCF), is the recipient of a second $354,000 grant from the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) for Research and Development in Forensic Science to explore the use of lubricant evidence in sexual assault cases.

Bridge has several goals for this research project that includes how to extract and classify lubricant evidence from fabrics involved in sexual assault cases as well as from swabs used to collect lubricants from the victim.

The research will also explore appropriate storage conditions for evidence, how lubricants degrade under usage conditions, appropriate screening methods, and error rates of inaccurate classification based on the innovative new classification system that was developed in her first grant.

Lubricant stains on fabrics collected in a sexual assault kit (SAK) can be extremely informative and aid in narrowing down the pool of perpetrators. Bridge’s research will demonstrate how to classify an unknown stain, compare it to a known lubricant and evaluate the potential for error.

The project will also establish an operational methodology for lubricant analysis in the lab utilising the Sexual Assault Lubricant database her team has developed, which she hopes will be adopted by law enforcement domestically and internationally.

The research is especially important as approximately 33 percent of SAKs yield no DNA. As more information about DNA has become available, those who commit sexual assault have turned to a variety of techniques in an effort to hide their DNA signature.

DNA evidence can remain viable for 40 years when stored correctly, but other evidence doesn’t and must be analysed quickly. A victim’s own biological excretions can change the chemical composition of lubricants which must be determined. Additionally, many body lotions even have some of the same components as lubricants that may be associated with sexual assault and thus she will evaluate how to different lotions from sexual lubricants.

FEAR

Many individuals fail to report sexual assault, particularly if the perpetrator utilises a condom or other masking methods. Victims often feel that without a sample of solid DNA evidence, they won’t be taken seriously or will face repercussions. Bridge’s research has the potential to change that dynamic for millions of individuals that are victims of sexual assault each year and help bring the perpetrators to justice.

Bridge broke new ground when she received a $324,000 grant from the NIJ in 2016 to work on a new approach to identifying sexual assault perpetrators in the absence of DNA evidence, by classifying sexual lubricants and establishing an associated database.

The new NIJ grant will fund the follow-up lubricant research, developing an operational analytical method for crime laboratories, and provide the means for students to assist in the project.

DNA evidence is the standard for prosecution and without it, many perpetrators never face charges. Bridge’s research has the potential to change the rate at which sexual assault is reported, the type of evidence collected, the number of perpetrators that are prosecuted, and provide an international database and standard for collecting and analyzing non-DNA evidence.

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