Researcher working to test rape kit dye that will work on all skin colors

Jun 20, 2013 by Christine Phelan Kueter
Forensic nurses fully document sexual assault victims' injuries by using a dye that causes injuries to the skin to "light up."

After a rape, forensic nurses fully document sexual assault victims' injuries by using a dye that causes lacerations and tears on the skin to "light up." But the dye – a dark blue – doesn't show on people of color, and that often means the perpetrators go free. A fluorescent dye may be the answer, posits University of Virginia researcher Kathryn Laughon, associate professor in the School of Nursing.

Laughon is now testing dyes that will illuminate tissue and abrasions for all skin types and colors.

Laughon, who is also an active forensic nurse examiner, explains that when women are examined after a suspected , the nurse typically applies the dye, wipes the extra off, and areas of "light up." Nurses like Laughon see two to three times as many injuries with the dye as without, so it's a critical step in assessing what's happened – and documenting it.

But for women of color, the contrasts don't "light" in the same way. And if injuries don't show, they're not documented, and the perpetrators ultimately may never be prosecuted. Research has repeatedly found that who are raped are much less likely to move through the than their white peers, which may be due in large part to the way the dye works – or doesn't work – on them.

"I don't have a magic way to tell what happened," says Laughon, "but at least all the victims are getting the same effectiveness from an exam. When we do find significant injuries, perpetrators are twice as likely to be charged, and then twice as likely to go to jail."

Of the 17 million American women who have been raped, 85 percent of them are women of color (19 percent black, 7 percent Asian/Pacific Islander, 35 percent American Indian/Alaskan and 24 percent are mixed race), though women of color comprise just over a third of the female population (36.3 percent).Laughon's research, in its early stages, is looking at already existing to see what best captures injuries on every skin type and color while not interfering with any subsequent DNA analyses. She also wants to be sure that the fluorescent dye isn't painful or irritating.

From there, she plans to test the dye on women who've just had consensual sex (which produces microtears and injuries too) to see about the 's pick-up. This step will also help understand what injuries from consensual sex look like and compare them to injuries sustained by suspected rape victims. Of the candidate dyes being tested, Laughon is zeroing in on several already used in eye procedures that contain flourozene.A unique aspect of Laughon's research is that it's seeking funding in an innovative six-month pilot program launched this month by the University of Virginia. It's U.Va.'s first foray into crowdfunding.

Laughon's project, "Reducing Inequity in Forensic Exams Following Sexual Assault," being done in collaboration with Shayn Peirce-Cottler in UVA.'s Department of Biomedical Engineering and Cassandra Fraser in the Department of Chemistry, is seeking to raise $19,000.

"Raising a relatively small amount of research funding through crowdfunding would help us go a long way toward identifying a solution to this important problem," Laughon says.

Explore further: Young people are overwhelmingly the victims of sexual assaults

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Capturing light in an efficient dye trap

May 10, 2013

Chemical compounds that can efficiently capture and convert light energy are in high demand as key components of inexpensive solar cells and advanced optical sensors. Carbon-based organic dyes are particularly ...

Recommended for you

A greener source of polyester—cork trees

7 hours ago

On the scale of earth-friendly materials, you'd be hard pressed to find two that are farther apart than polyester (not at all) and cork (very). In an unexpected twist, however, scientists are figuring out ...

Breakthrough points to new drugs from nature

8 hours ago

Researchers at Griffith University's Eskitis Institute have developed a new technique for discovering natural compounds which could form the basis of novel therapeutic drugs.

World's first successful visualisation of key coenzyme

9 hours ago

Japanese researchers have successfully developed the world's first imaging method for visualising the behaviour of nicotine-adenine dinucleotide derivative (NAD(P)H), a key coenzyme, inside cells. This feat ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Breakthrough points to new drugs from nature

Researchers at Griffith University's Eskitis Institute have developed a new technique for discovering natural compounds which could form the basis of novel therapeutic drugs.

A greener source of polyester—cork trees

On the scale of earth-friendly materials, you'd be hard pressed to find two that are farther apart than polyester (not at all) and cork (very). In an unexpected twist, however, scientists are figuring out ...

A beautiful, peculiar molecule

"Carbon is peculiar," said Nobel laureate Sir Harold Kroto. "More peculiar than you think." He was speaking to a standing-room-only audience that filled the Raytheon Amphitheater on Monday afternoon for the ...

Down's chromosome cause genome-wide disruption

The extra copy of Chromosome 21 that causes Down's syndrome throws a spanner into the workings of all the other chromosomes as well, said a study published Wednesday that surprised its authors.

IBM posts lower 1Q earnings amid hardware slump

IBM's first-quarter earnings fell and revenue came in below Wall Street's expectations amid an ongoing decline in its hardware business, one that was exasperated by weaker demand in China and emerging markets.