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J R Soc Med. 2007 September; 100(9): 397–398.
PMCID: PMC1963411

Convictions in sexual assault cases

Ronald C Denney, Professor

Beata Cybulska (JRSM 2007;100;321-324) has given a valuable insight into aspects of sexual assault, especially with respect to the low conviction rate for rape.

I am frequently called on to assess the validity of DNA data and analytical evidence for alcohol and drugs in such cases. Regrettably, it is clear that the low conviction rate occurs for a variety of reasons, not least the delay in the victim making a complaint to the police. But even with fairly rapid responses, cases fail for the following reasons:

  1. The victim has washed or destroyed items of clothing or bed linen;
  2. The victim has bathed or showered following the assault;
  3. The victim was too intoxicated to remember many significant details of the events that occurred.

A very important point that must be considered is that after being sexually assaulted and/or raped the victim often feels traumatized, debased, contaminated and unclean and may develop a pathological desire to remove and wash away the effects and feelings from the sexual encounter. In many respects any significant increase in convictions for sexual assaults and rapes will only come about if it is possible to get the message across and widely accepted that women and men who are subjected to such offences should: complain quickly to the police, not wash or bathe before being medically examined, retain all items of clothing and bed linen, and try to provide as much fine detail about the assailant, the venue and the circumstances as possible.

That is asking a great deal from a person who has undergone such an indignity, but the greater the information available the better the chance of a conviction being possible.


Competing interests RCD is visiting Professor in Forensic Science at Kingston University and is an independent consultant forensic scientist.


1. Cybulska B. Sexual assault: key issues. J Roy Soc Med 2007;100: 321-4 [PMC free article] [PubMed]

Articles from Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine are provided here courtesy of Royal Society of Medicine Press