Application of forensic DNA technology critical to deter sexual predators


Although India saw a steep drop in reported cases of rape in the first month of the nationwide lockdown earlier this year, the menace is rearing its ugly head again with several incidents being reported from across the country and brutal rapes making national headlines once again.

As per the record of the complaints received by the National Commission for Women (NCW), after touching an all-time low in April 2020, reports of rape have shot up 12 times over following three months. 

National Commission for Women (NCW) Complaints & Investigation Cell 

image-Suman-Nalwa-DCP-Delhi-Police-mediaBrie.jpgSuman Nalwa, DCP, Delhi Police, said, “While this was expected with the easing of restrictions on public movement, safety of women & children remains our top priority. Even during this pandemic, we’ve been taking steps to equip our force with the training & resources for proper collection, handling, and transp­ortation of DNA samples to strengthen the prosecution’s case.

“Not only can forensic DNA technology bring sex offenders to justice, it can also act as a strong deterrent by putting the fear of law in the minds of such criminals,” Nalwa added. 

As incidence of rape and sexual assault reaches pre-COVID levels, police investigators from around the country have been demonstrating how forensic DNA can be used effectively in identifying and convicting sex offenders.

Recently, Uttarakhand Police arrested a youth for raping and impregnating a 17-year-old girl based on a DNA test, while another offender was convicted in a rape and murder case of a 7-year-old girl in Andhra Pradesh. In another first, the West Bengal Police tested the DNA sample from a cigarette found at the crime scene to convict two accused in a ten-year old case. 

image-Dr-Pinky-Anand-Sr-Advocate-MediaBrief.jpgDr Pinky Anand, Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of India, said, “It has become critical for India’s criminal justice system to quickly gear up with infrastructure & training for widespread application of forensic DNA technology in rape cases.

“Along with ensuring swift justice in sexual assault cases, it will also curb the incidence of rape by identifying habitual offenders who prey on women & children with impunity.

“Considering the conclusiveness of DNA evidence, the Government too is trying to institute the DNA Technology (Use and Application) Regulation Bill at the earliest. Once enacted, the Bill will go a long way in standardising protocols and preventing repeat crime through a regulated DNA databank,” Anand said. 

The governments at both central and state levels are continuing work on strengthening forensic DNA policy framework and infrastructure. States like Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, & Manipur are working to upgrade DNA analysis facilities with dedicated units for crimes against women & children under the Nirbhaya Fund Corpus.

Additionally, with an aim to build world class capabilities in forensic science, the Centre is looking to create the much-awaited National Forensic Sciences University through an Act of Parliament, thereby elevating the profile of Gujarat Forensic Sciences University (GFSU) to an institute of national importance. 

image-Dr-JM-Vyas-Director-General-GFSU-mediaBrief.jpgDr JM Vyas, Director General, GFSU, said, “The new National Forensic Sciences University will play a major role in further strengthening the investigative and security related capabilities of the law enforcement agencies of the country.

“NFSU will enhance these capabilities by creating experts in various specialized areas, imparting training to the officers of law enforcement agencies, undertaking innovative need-based research, and providing necessary consultancy in creating / strengthening forensic facilities,” Vyas added. 

image-Tim-Schellberg-Founder-President-Gordon-Thomas-Honeywell—GA-MediaBrief.jpgTim Schellberg, Founder & President, Gordon Thomas Honeywell—GA, said, “Once a criminal DNA database identifies the perpetrator of a crime, the criminal can be quickly removed from the community.

“This is particularly impactful when fighting gender-based violence and sexual assault. We know that criminals who commit such crimes don’t commit them just once. Statistics show they are serial offenders.” 

“When the accused was released from prison, Brazil had not yet passed the DNA database legislation. As a result, he was free to commit five sexual assaults and murders without being caught, even though he left his DNA at each crime scene.

“Had the Brazilian Parliament passed the DNA database law prior to Trigueriro’s release from prison, he would have been identified from the first crime scene and put back in prison, and four of his five victims would still be alive today. Every day that a country waits to have a DNA database, it is missed opportunity to prevent another senseless crime,” Schellberg added. 

Over the last two years, owing to improving levels of awareness, the volume of forensic DNA testing in criminal cases has been on the rise. However, despite growth in the number of profiles being tested, the absolute volume remains low, especially in crimes against women and children.

With half a million violent crimes every year and 4 rapes reported every hour where less than a third of the cases see conviction, India still only conducts over 20,000 tests in a year.

With the realisation that many cases of rape & sexual violence involve repeat offenders, the emerging consensus is that DNA technology can play a key role not just in bringing sexual predators to justice but also preventing their crimes by identifying and stopping them early, thus saving countless lives in the process. 

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