Rapists escaping justice because police surgeons not up to job

(posed by model): Getty Images/PhotoAlto

Rape already arouses serious anxiety because so few attacks are reported to the police, conviction rates are low, and victims are subject to intrusive questioning in court. But now concerns are growing that rapists are escaping justice because doctors are failing to properly examine victims or record their injuries, depriving police of crucial forensic evidence. In other words, senior doctors fear that some forensic medical examiners (FMEs) are simply not up to the job.

Examining sexual assault victims requires skill, sensitivity and attention to detail, according to Dr George Fernie, president of the Faculty of Forensic and Legal Medicine. He explains: “They could have bruising to the body or injuries to the genitalia, or bruising consistent with being grabbed by the upper arms and held, or a woman may have had her legs forced apart. The person needs to be carefully examined to ensure you don’t miss those injuries, and that you take the correct swabs for signs of an assailant’s DNA.”

Specialist police doctors or police surgeons, as forensic medical examiners are also known, look after the victims of crime as well as the health of suspects in custody. But Fernie is worried at the number of cases in which the forensic doctor has missed injuries, failed to take swabs, or has not documented their findings fully – undermining a prosecution. “The Crown Prosecution Service tell us that sometimes in a sexual assault case they can’t proceed with criminal charges because of poor- quality medical evidence,” says Fernie. “Some perpetrators are going free because there isn’t enough evidence to prosecute – because the examining doctor hasn’t done his job right.”   Read more…

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