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Self-swab kits could help encourage more rape victims come forward

The steps that victims of rape have to take in order to report the crime to the police can sometimes feel incredibly daunting, to the point where it puts some people off speaking out about it at all.

Victim blaming is a real issue when it comes to sexual abuse, but there is also the fact that in order to capture the evidence, police have to ask women who have been victims of rape, to undergo an intrusive medical examination. It's easy to see how this would be seen as invasive, especially when you consider the abuse that the victims have had to deal with, and it can be enough to dissuade many women from pressing charges and seeking justice.

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However, Lisa Smith, an associate professor in criminology at the University of Leicester, seems to have come up with a potential way to avoid this scenario, and it could help out women who have been victims of sexual abuse. Speaking about her invention, Lisa said:

"The exams that are performed after this violent act are very invasive and many people don't want them at all.

"I thought to myself, 'There has to be a way to give women control so that they don’t have to endure those exams, and yet recover the evidence that's needed'."

Lisa quickly discovered that there is a way: a self-swab kit that would allow women to gather the DNA evidence needed by themselves. Smith says that she has created a device that is a similar shape to a tampon and uses an applicator to protect the swab from any cross-contamination of DNA.

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While the professor acknowledges that a medical examination will always be the "gold standard", she understands that this isn't something all women want to endure, so the self-swab test would at least serve as one way of gathering evidence in order to prosecute a rapist.

The self-swab test is currently a prototype and is still in the process of being finished, but once it is ready, it will be rolled out for testing in the likes of Kenya, where rape is an alarmingly common occurrence.

According to Smith, early rounds of testing have indicated that this method could really work, with the swab having already provided a genetic match for DNA it collected 32 hours previously. But while she is no doubt in favour of her invention, Smith is well aware that it could come under criticism because some people may believe it makes it easier for women to claim rape.

"While it's difficult to argue against someone’s DNA on an intimate swab, sadly, there will always be scepticism surrounding women, particularly if women are accusing men they know, like their boyfriends or their husbands," she said.

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According to Rachel Krys, the co-director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, an astonishingly low 5 per cent of the 15 per cent reported rape cases actually reach a legal conclusion. Krys hopes that a product like the one invented by Smith would help increase these figure, although she is quick to warn that this method of collection needs to work "at every stage of the criminal justice system".

"Women who report rape and sexual violence need to know the system will work for them, as there is too much at stake for them to rely on a new technology, and then to be let down later on."

Like Krys said, while this method of testing sounds brilliant, they need to be sure that it will work throughout the legal system before it can be rolled out. Hopefully, there will be no issues and the self-swab kit will be rolled out, meaning that more women will get the justice they deserve.