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Take caution

Over the past week, there has been an enormous amount of controversy over the case involving two British women, Diane Davis and Rachel Turner, who were raped in Barbados in 2010.

Dereck Crawford has been arrested and charged for this criminal offence of which he must defend in order to prove his innocence. The most striking concern about this case is that the victims are convincingly adamant that the accused is not the perpetrator and have also accused the Royal Barbados Police Force of “sloppy investigations to protect Barbados’ tourism”. According to them, they were also dissatisfied with the manner in which the police handled their ordeal.

From a forensic perspective, the outcry of the victims and the accused man’s concerns are serious and need revisiting. The case needed to be delayed in order for justice to prevail. I was very impressed with the Director of Public Prosecution for recommending an adjournment of the case until December 13.

In each rape case, one of the most convincing forms of evidence is biological evidence, and because of its seriousness, this can lead to the identification of a perpetrator. DNA evidence found in blood, semen, sweat, and exfoliation from the skin can easily identify a suspect once a thorough DNA analysis has been carried out.

DNA evidence is extremely powerful and has been used in a number of countries to prove, disprove or exonerate wrongful convictions. Each person’s DNA is different and this makes it extremely easy to identify suspects.

In some rape investigations, victims can also identify their attacker either by face, voice, smell, or identification marks. One of these things can stand out in the victims’ memories if they paid attention to the details during the sexual assault.

When a rape has been committed, some form of this type of evidence is left behind. According to the Dr. Edmund Locard’s theory in forensics, “every contact leaves a trace”. This is the basis by which investigators, prosecutors, and the defence rely in order to find perpetrators to solve criminal cases.

The perpetrator leaves some form of evidence behind without consciously thinking or being aware of it. According to attorney-at-law Andrew Pilgrim, “they have given me papers, there was no DNA evidence given to me today”. Here Pilgrim is indicating the possible innocence of Crawford.

To be adamant that the accused is not the attacker is to suggest that these women seem to know their attacker and for more than one reason believe that the court system will send the wrong person to prison. There have been cases of wrongful [imprisonment] around the world and once convicted the inmate and his or her family have to deal with the ramifications of prison life and putting life back together for reintegration into the society.

The Royal Barbados Police Force also has to be mindful not to be viewed as a law enforcement entity that is quick to solve a case due to public pressure or its organisational culture. Thorough, timely, efficient and effective investigation is necessary, especially when dealing with sensitive crimes such as rape.

The avoidance of the harmful effects of wrongful imprisonment on a suspect and the need for closure for the victims is paramount at the end of such investigations.

* Rennette M. Dimmott is a Forensic Psychology Consultant

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