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How do authorities test for sex crimes?

When you are charged with a sex crime, your reputation is on the line. An accusation could affect your personal relationships and even your job. A charge is rape is particularly serious.

Rape is defined as forcible penetration (oral, anal or vaginal) using a sexual organ or object that is done without the consent of the other person involved. Ritual sex or mutilation can also be considered rape in some cases. Sexual assault is different and refers to unwanted sexual contact like groping, fondling or molestation. In either case, there is often evidence left behind, such as semen, that contains DNA.

DNA found in semen has been invaluable in proving who the perpetrator is with stunning accuracy. Swab samples are collected, usually from areas of the victim's body where the alleged assault took place or where contact was made. Finger nail clippings from the alleged victim are taken to see if there could be DNA trapped there.

Semen can be detected three ways using laboratory tests. These aren't the same as a DNA test. They are in addition to a DNA test and is preliminary. There is an acid phosphate test that is common and even can be done with a testing kit at home. If semen is present, the acid will turn a certain color. Confirming tests usually follow.

The Christmas tree test uses chemicals that color the head and tail portions of the semen in different colors. The color is bright, hence the name Christmas tree test.

The last one is the Rapid Stain Identification test. It is also a confirmatory test to prove the presence of semen using test strips that change color.

You can easily see that the testing part of sex crimes has come a long way. If you know what you are up against when you are charged with a sex crime, you may better be able to help in your defense.

Source: Forensic Magazine, "DNA Forensic Testing and Use of DNA Rape Kits in Cases of Rape and Sexual Assault," Karl M. McDonald, accessed Sep. 11, 2015

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