A new study of methods for investigating rape shows that vaginal injuries are as common in consensual sex as in rape. The study raises questions about investigation methods that assume vaginal injuries are evidence of forced intercourse or rape.
A common procedure in the investigation of rape worldwide is to look for lesions in the vagina as evidence of sexual assault and in many cases men have been found guilt of rape and sentenced to long prison terms based on evidence of vaginal injuries.
The new study, titled: Nature, frequency and duration of genital lesions after consensual sexual intercourse—Implications for legal proceedings, compared rape victims with nursing students at the University of South Denmark. The study showed that vaginal injuries are as common in consensual sex as in rape and that relying on vaginal injuries as evidence of rape may present a very misleading picture in investigation of alleged cases of rape.
The study involved 110 nursing students in their early 20s and 39 rape victims at the Center for Rape Victims at the Odense University Hospital. All were given a medical examination less than 28 hours after intercourse or rape.
Science Nordic reports Birgitte Schmidt Astrup, medical scientist and PhD student at the University of South Denmark's Institute of Forensic Medicine, said: "I have tried to examine the students for everything I could imagine would cause vaginal injuries, even the duration of the intercourse. But I had to figure it out all by myself because there is no scientific literature I could use as reference points."
The results showed that vaginal injuries were found in 36 percent of rape victims and in 34 percent of nursing students. The study found that the rate of injuries in the nursing students reporting consensual sex was not affected by whether the students reported gentle or rough sex or whether their partners had used condoms or sex toys.
Daily Mail reports similar information was difficult to get from rape victims because most did not keep track of the details of the incident.
Science Nordic reports Astrup, commenting on the study results, said: "The findings are extremely interesting. The nursing students experience just as frequent vaginal injuries as rape victims, and so these injuries cannot be used for much more than to establish that intercourse has taken place." She added: “This is the first time that results like these have been quantified, and that’s important. It’s a useful tool for forensic investigation, and it also provides much greater certainty when a professional can tell the court that 34 percent of women get injuries from voluntary intercourse, instead of saying ‘It’s my personal experience that women may not get injuries from voluntary intercourse’.”
Daily Mail notes Astrup comments on the long history of using vaginal injuries as evidence of rape and wonders how often there have been miscarriages of justice in the past.
She added: "Before I came up with some of these figures, the investigators were inclined to take the case seriously when there were injuries and less seriously when there were no injuries."
Although the figure for injuries remained about the same for consensual sex as rape, the study said there appeared to be an increased risk of multiple injuries in forced intercourse, and in rape, injuries tended to be more severe. The study also pointed to the fact that different women have different types of vaginal mucous membranes and the severity of vaginal injuries was related to type of mucous membrane.
Science Nordic reports U.S. researchers have also shown that white women sustain four or five times as many vaginal injuries in consensual sex as women of other races.
Danish Videnskab reports that the findings published in the journal Forensic Science International, are influencing Danish police procedure for investigating rape cases and may also influence investigation of rape in other parts of the world.
According to Science Nordic, through meetings, lectures and collaboration with police, Astrup has been able to convince police investigators that presence of lesions in the vaginal tract is not an essential aspect of investigation of rape cases. Police Superintendent Jack Liedecke, said: “Her work is frequently included in our investigations because she conducts frequent studies of rape victims."