“There is no question that there would be a societal benefit should we have the capability to rapidly test all sexual assault kits currently in the hands of law enforcement agencies and crime laboratories,” says Robin Cotton, PhD, associate professor of anatomy and neurobiology and Director of the MS Program in Biomedical Forensic Sciences. Now, thanks to a Sexual Medicine grant that may soon be a reality.
Dr. Cotton along with Sabra Botch-Jones, MS, MA, D-ABFT-FT, assistant professor of anatomy and neurobiology, each have been awarded $50,000 Sexual Medicine pilot grants.
While Dr. Cotton will use the funds from the endowment to improve the analysis of the sexual assault kit evidence, Ms. Botch-Jones plans to develop and validate methods to identify drugs identified in drug-facilitated sexual assaults. “Incidents involving alcohol were much more likely to include attempted or completed rape than incidents without alcohol. However, the statistics on drugs, other than alcohol, are limited due to the fact that there is variability in how these cases are handled across the United States and globally,” she explains.
Prior to joining BUSM, Ms. Botch-Jones spent the first 15 years of her career working in and for government and private forensic toxicology laboratories where she gained extensive experience in developing and using analytical methods to determine what drugs were involved in drug- facilitated sexual assaults. She hopes the data produced by this research could be used to show proof of concept for future funding sources such as those through the Center for Advanced Research in Forensic Science which is a National Science Foundation/National Institute for Justice co-sponsored Industry/University Cooperative
According to Dr. Cotton, the process of extracting different DNA for sexual assault evidence was developed in 1985. While improvements have been made to speed up the existing process, the basic process of differential extraction for sperm and vaginal epithelial cell mixtures remains the same. Dr. Cotton and her students have developed a new process for extraction. This funding will allow completion of this work as well as demonstration of the efficacy of the procedure using a large set of clinical samples. “It is our goal to develop a process that is faster, less expensive and, at the same time, provides greater sensitivity than the existing processes,” says Dr. Cotton.
As experts in forensics, Dr. Cotton and Ms. Botch-Jones have both professional experience and research interests in identifying procedures which will improve the outcomes from analysis of evidence. It is their hope that this research will aid in bringing closure and justice for the victims of sexual assault through more accurate, sensitive and standardized testing.