The DNA Analysis Kit: Helping Sex Crime Victims Find Justice

| Written by UP Media and Public Relations Office

Rape is one of the most prevalent forms of violence against women (VAW) in the country, ranking third among reported offenses at 13.1 percent from 1999 to 2009. But the Philippine Commission on Women (PCW) and other concerned organizations are aware that the reality is far more troubling than the figures indicate. The social and cultural stigmatization associated with rape has silenced many victims about their ordeals. Those who do report rape incidents to authorities face another set of difficulties—from an over-reliance on victim testimony to the psycho-sociological and economic costs of a lengthy trial. The obstacles inherent in seeking justice in a rape case make the experience a particularly harrowing one for the parties involved.

An additional, yet equally pertinent difficulty in these cases is ensuring that evidence is effectively collected, transported, and analyzed.

In the case of DNA evidence in particular, the fact that the laboratories capable of analyzing it in sexual assault cases are all located in Metro Manila makes it unlikely that the 72-hour window within which DNA in collected samples is likely to be available can be met. The difficulty and cost involved in collecting, transporting and analyzing biological samples from a victim are a likely factor in an enormous number of cases where the presence of the evidence could have made a difference.

These challenges inspired the UP Diliman Natural Science Research Institute DNA Analysis Laboratory (UPD-NSRI DAL) led by Dr. Maria Corazon A. De Ungria to develop a prototype version of the Sexual Assault Investigation Kit (SAIK).

The DNA Analysis laboratory staff, in a photo featured in the UP Diliman Natural Sciences Research Institute website. Photo from UP NSRI website.

The idea of incorporating DNA evidence in the resolution of sexual assault cases in the country first gained recognition through the SAIK’s successful application at the World Bank-sponsored Panibagong Paraan 2004, or the 1st Philippine Development Innovation Marketplace. Designed by the lab with key inputs from its key researchers such as Frederick Delfin, the SAIK is one of a number of important extension services offered by the UPD-NSRI DAL to make DNA science serve the needs of Philippine society.

The premise behind the SAIK was as simple as it was timely. It aimed to use DNA’s ability as the most powerful current tool in human identification to produce objective evidence in identifying the perpetrators of sex crimes. It moves the burden away from victim testimony, while also being capable of being used in support of that same testimony. Moreover, it addressed the aforementioned problems of collecting and storing samples for DNA testing, the limited access to DNA laboratories, and, perhaps most importantly, the limited resources of victims and/or suspects.

Since its initial development by Dr. De Ungria and Mr. Delfin, several members of the UPD-NSRI DAL such as researchers Nelvie Soliven, Miriam Ruth Dalet, Minerva Sagum, Gayvelline Calacal and Jazelyn Salvador have contributed to the present version of the SAIK. According to Soliven, who currently leads the team doing improvements on the SAIK, the kit itself contains the collection materials—collection tubes, sterile swabs (oral, anal and vaginal), and envelopes which are color-coded based on sample type, together with the instructions and forms needed to document the collection and transport of the samples. These instructions contain all the elements prescribed by the Rule on DNA Evidence promulgated by the Philippine Supreme Court in 2007.

The typical evidence management process involves the collection of samples by trained medical personnel from the Child Protection Unit (CPU-Net) or other organizations around the country using the SAIK. The kit is then transported via courier to the DNA laboratories in Metro Manila for analysis.The evidence management process is vital in ensuring that the samples remain intact and accounted for from the collecting unit of origin to the DNA laboratory. Combined with the economical dimensions of the SAIK, it greatly reduces the costs and difficulties inherent in transferring and storing samples.

The SAIK, when properly used, aids law enforcement personnel in identifying the real perpetrators of crimes. This reduces the burden on the victim to provide a detailed and prolonged testimony and protects those who have been erroneously accused of the crime. The SAIK also helps doctors during the medical examination of an individual after an abuse by providing sterile material with the appropriate labels, thereby simplifying the overall process of evidence collection.

According to Dalet, work on the SAIK took many years because the UPD-NSRI DAL opted to study the entire system, from sample collection, transport, handling and laboratory analysis before a prototype version was made available to NGOs and GAs. Funding was obtained from the Department of Science and Technology Philippine Council of Advanced Science and Technology Research Development (DOST PCASTRD), the European Union (EU), the World Bank and the UP Diliman Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Development (OVCRD). Two papers that were published in the International Journal of Legal Medicine (IJLM) in 2005 and 2011 reported the use of this kit in the examination of over 100 child-victims that were conducted by the CPU-Net. The prototype SAIK used in these studies is now available on a per-order basis from the UPD-NSRI DAL.

To improve the packaging of the prototype kit, the UPD-NSRI DAL is now working with the UP College of Fine Arts and the UP Diliman Intellectual Property and Technology Transfer Office (UPD IPTTO). UPD-NSRI DAL is actively seeking out funding sources, as well as interested companies who can help its members make this all-important innovation available on a national scale in order to maximize the utility of this kit in finding justice for all sexual abuse victims and in strengthening the Philippine criminal justice.
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