DNA evidence a real solace for survivors of sexual assault
Recently, another sexual predator in the New York City subway system was caught with an analysis of his DNA. From 2002 to 2005, Manhattan prosecutors say that the suspect, Darnell Hardware, was charged with rubbing himself up against young women on packed subway cars. With a rap sheet a mile long, he still had the gall to plead not guilty. The predator that attacked me had a similar delusion ~ that even though there was blatant evidence to the contrary (a condom, in his case), and multiple victims in his wake ~ that he would somehow be able to beat the rap. But there’s an old expression, “The body doesn’t lie.” DNA testing has become the almost incontrovertible “truth serum” for prosecutors, especially for cases involving sexual assault. In this case, the suspect had allegedly attacked multiple women and was able to successfully elude capture for years, but that didn’t stop his DNA from being charged while he was ‘in absentia.’
DNA testing has only become popular in the last two decades, but has already helped convict many violent criminals, as well as exonerate the innocent. Particularly for finding proof of sexual assault, which had formerly depended upon the victim’s testimony, DNA testing is a significant advancement. To increase the possibility of an attacker being convicted with DNA, a victim needs to have the presence of mind to not destroy any of this type of evidence. In their traumatic state, many victims find themselves inadvertently trying to revert their body and their environment back to the way things were before the crime took place. This is a natural reaction to sexual assault, which anyone can have, regardless of the level of violation. I, personally, can remember wanting to burn the dress I was wearing the day that happened to me on the subway. So it is vital to remind ourselves, that if the worst case scenario occurs, we know how to handle it ~ besides immediately getting to safety, the preservation of evidence is of paramount concern. As per the advice of RAINN, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, victims need to avoid doing the following after an assault: bathing or showering, using the restroom, changing clothes, combing hair, cleaning up the crime scene, or moving anything the offender may have touched. This can help to provide as much physical evidence as possible if the victim decides to complete a rape kit, administered by a SANE (a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner). A SANE’s testimony can even be used in the event that a case goes to trial. And DNA evidence can indeed catch a rapist, as in a case this past February in Houston, TX, where police apprehended the accused by taking saliva swabs from residents of his apartment complex.
Of course, the other side of this, is that there are many cases of sexual victimization in which no DNA evidence can be found, which works to the victim’s disadvantage. With the public now so used to hearing about DNA testing in the media and the courts, sometimes there is a rush to declare that a crime didn’t actually take place if no DNA evidence was found or preserved properly. But for those difficult cases that have gone unsolved for years, or have even gone cold for decades, DNA has become a saving grace. In recognizance of this fact, there is a movement to pass state DNA Arrestee Testing laws, spearheaded by the non-profit group DNA Saves. It advocates mandatory DNA testing from felony arrestees, and has already been passed in the House of Representatives with strong bi-partisan support. It is now awaiting approval by the Senate, and is known as “Katie’s Law,” which stands for the Katie Sepich Enhanced DNA Collection Act. Katie was a beautiful 22-year-old graduate student from New Mexico, whose body was found raped, strangled to death, and set on fire near her home in August of 2003. Through skin and blood recovered from under her fingernails, law enforcement was able to finally track down the killer, Gabriel Avilla. He had committed several other crimes, but because there had been no mandatory DNA testing at the time of his arrest in November of 2003, Katie’s murder went unsolved for three years.
Through reading about this case, as well as many others like it, I am thoroughly convinced that DNA testing should be mandatory for violent offenders, as they are already subject to fingerprinting. This requirement could bring about justice for victims and their families, save lives, and act as a deterrent to future sexual assaults. Victims and the groups which support them now have more power than ever to make it clear to predators that not only will there be zero tolerance for sexually violating another human being, but that if they do, the consequences will be life-altering. The Hardwares and the Avillas of this world will truly be put on notice when this important bill passes.