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Better proof for faster and just assessment of sexual crime cases

Image credit: https://www.pexels.com/photo/man-people-woman-desk-8382077/

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J
Juranium Jul 09, 2021
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Necessity

Is the problem still unsolved?

Conciseness

Is it concisely described?

This session was inspired by the @salemandreus's idea about the social aspect of sexual crime management.

The problem

From the legal perspective, the best evidence of the rape or sexual assault is, unfortunately, the semen of the rapist found inside the victim's vagina and the physiological signs of the violent sexual act. Combined with the psychological examination of the victim, comprehensive rapist evaluation, and conversation with the people close to the victim and the rapist, it still results in a lousy and long-lasting way of finding the truth. Plus, all the parts can be hijacked. Even the strongest physiological evidence can be artificially created (e.g. at first a normal mutually satisfactory rough sexual act, "repurposed").

What can a victim do if there is no phone that could activate the GPS location tracker, camera, or voice recorder? What if the victim does not suspect because the person is someone close?
In these situations, what can help the truth to be found?

Can we find a better physiological, psychological, or other sign of sexual crime or other violent sexual acts?
Is there a specific biomarker of sexual crime/trauma?
How can a violent sexual act be unquestionably proved on court in non black&white situations?
6
Creative contributions

Sexual consent form

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Povilas S
Povilas S Jul 13, 2021
This is a partial solution or rather a preventive measure before engaging in sexual activities for both partners to clearly define in words and on paper that they are willing to engage in the act, what specific sexual activities are acceptable for each of them, then indicate the chosen date and maybe even time of the act and sign the form. The form is best to be signed in front of a witness (the filling/signing process could also be filmed, etc.). Each party then has a copy of the form.

While at first this might seem funny, it's actually a useful thing in the context of rape/sexual assault. It's getting popular amongst people who engage in rough and so-called kinky sex. If someone clearly violated the agreement during the act this could be proved by reviewing the consent form in combination with physiological evidence. Of course, this is still tricky, can be faked, etc., but it adds an additional layer of security/proof. While it might be a major turn-off to sign forms before having sex, on the other hand, it encourages people to talk openly about their dos and don'ts in advance rather than keeping silent and expecting everything to fall into place naturally.
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Juranium5 months ago
Haha it is indeed a funny thing to ask your sex partner to sign a form, but I see where you're going.

The problem I see with this is that it doesn't deal with the problem of finding evidence of rape or other sexual crime. By signing this paper, you did not ensure yourself from being raped, nor you created new evidence. Although you have written consent (which is also better than none), you still have no evidence of violating the terms of the consent. On the court, you can often hear that the two had sex and the one states it was normal sex and the other one says he/she was raped. Therefore, I think it could be a major turn-off, for little or no security.

In the case of the sex that would require such an approach (tinder, ONS, etc), I would suggest turning on your microphone and location on your phone or texting your close person with whom and where you are. It would be much stronger evidence of the violations of signed or non-signed sexual act agreements.
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Povilas S
Povilas S5 months ago
Juran Yes, the form obviously doesn't protect from cases where there was no intention from the victim's side to have any intimate contact with the perpetrator in the first place, but it might be helpful in cases where the line between consensual sex and abuse is blurred afterwards, e.g. if suspecting that someone might try to fake the abuse to gain personal benefits, revenge, etc. I think it's exactly the reason why it was "invented" in the first place.

The evidence would be in a form of physiological signs of struggle/abuse as with most sexual crime cases, just in this case you'd know exactly what to look for that would count as a violation of the form, e.g. if a person was beaten during the act and they didn't mention that they want pain infliction as means to gain sexual pleasure, it's obvious that this was done against their will, then the perpetrator can't argue that "she liked it that way". On the contrary, if someone actually wrote that they want that, then afterwards they can't use a trick of inflicting bruises on themselves and using that as evidence of sexual abuse.

As I said, the form is more the means for people to feel psychologically safer rather than something to help solve crimes and it only works if people more or less trust each other in the first place. Someone having an intention to abuse another won't sign any forms before. So if the partner agrees to do it, this can make another feel safer/ trust that person more.
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Juranium5 months ago
Povilas S It could be helpful in the scenarios you mentioned, true. What I see as a possible problem is that the victims who want to benefit from the intercourse will probably plan it and fill the form in a way that it fits the desired scenario. Or maybe I just went too far. Nevertheless, an interesting point of view!
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Distinguishing different kinds of trauma

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic Jul 09, 2021
If there were something like let's say epigenetic biomarkers of trauma that could be detected, could they be distinguishable based on what happened to the person? Would it hold up in court? Could it be faked to extort someone (Michael Jackson type of person)?
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Juranium5 months ago
Thank you Darko Savic for raising these questions! That's exactly what I was aiming with this session. I'll post my findings as separate contibutions, but it would be really cool if we find trauma biomarkers that can unquestionably determine the type of the trauma, the exact time and the effect of it on the body.
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Brain imaging

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Povilas S
Povilas S Jul 13, 2021
Brain imaging methods are getting more and more advanced, even now it's almost up to the point of reading one's mind. If it became possible to tell from neuroimaging methods whether the memory a person is experiencing is a real memory or imagined/faked this would be all the proof that's necessary for sexual crime cases. I just can't help but link this scene from Blade Runner 2049 here, I know it's not directly related but nevertheless fits the context.

The systems combining neuroimaging methods with powerful AI are getting better and better at recreating images and other sensory input from specific localized patterns of neural activity. With time it might become possible to visualize someone's memories on the screen.

It's often argued that it's too difficult to tell what actually happened from a person's memory because subjective perspectives influence the process of memory formation, but in the context of sexual crimes it would be enough to be sure that the victim is thinking of/remembering the traumatic event (and not imagining or remembering something else in order to fake the emotional response) and that the memory is real in a sense that it represents the event that actually happened. Just to tell the fact that sexual violence was used doesn't require recreating much circumstantial detail.

Factual events stored as memories in a person's brain should differ from products of imagination because they are created by sensory input, so they should carry more "mental weight". So it doesn't seem unlikely that a neuroimaging system capable of telling the difference can be developed. Such a system would be immensely helpful in solving crime cases of almost any kind.

To be sure that the person is not simply tapping into a different real traumatic memory on purpose, sensory input related to the crime could be presented - like a picture of the perpetrator or a leading person could assist by asking questions, reminding of the event, etc. The system could also recreate the image of the perpetrator from a remembered crime scene by reading specific patterns of the victim's neural activity, similarly to what is done here.


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Juranium5 months ago
Although I think we are still far from this, and even further from this being valid proof on the court, I am really excited to see it happening. It would be much easier and more straightforward to find a biomarker that tells the same, but this would definitely be the revolutionary breakthrough.
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Make the Victim and the Perpetrator Narrate the Story while their Heartbeats are monitored.

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Samuel Bello
Samuel Bello Jul 27, 2021
This is just like using a lie detector to determine if the narrator is telling the truth. The narrator's facial expressions, body language, and physiological conditions will be recorded and analyzed by AI and psychologists. Both the plaintiff and the defendant should be present when either party narrates what happened. The feed from both parties will be cross-referenced to have a better idea of what the truth is. The psychologists, with the help of AI, will deduce the likeliest scenarios from the testimony and physiological indicators of the witnesses. This form of investigation is not restricted to rape cases, it can be employed in any case where there is more than one witness and the accounts given by the witnesses differ. This will make our legal system more efficient and just.
A possible setback to this form of investigation is that the truth might be hard to find if one or both of the involved parties was intoxicated during or before the alleged rape.
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Trauma biomarkers repurposed and combined with other stress biomarkers as a new approach

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J
Juranium Jul 10, 2021
For some cases of sexual violence, there are numerous physiological proofs and for some, there are almost none, but a heavy burden of awful memories. To make all sex crime cases measurable, I would link to @Darko Savic's contibution and suggest a repurposing of several trauma biomarkers and creating a trauma-stress standardized panel.


The panel would focus on physiological signs of experienced trauma. This is a newly suggested approach to sexual abuse, often seen in cases of child trauma, PTSD, or other trauma detection and treatment protocols. Victims would be tested on a combination of serum-based tests that could help the medical personnel assess the existence, specificity, severity, and length of reported trauma.

The proposed biomarkers are:
  • Blood-brain barrier (BBB) stress biomarkers (example of S100B protein)
It was shown that stress can activate inflammatory response and affect the BBB function. Since BBB separates the brain circulation from the body, disruptions in BBB can result in "leaking" of some proteins usually found only in brain. One of those is the S100B protein, already shown to be increased in children and adults which experienced a childhood trauma, sexual violence. The high S100B levels were also linked with high score on Life Events Checklist (LEC), which "assesses exposure to sexual abuse or other unwanted sexual experience, natural disasters, emotional neglect, death in family, fire or explosion, serious accident, toxic substance, physical assault, assault with a weapon, combat, captivity, life-threatening illness, severe human suffering, violent death and serious injury." Therefore, it is very likely that sexual trauma caused by the rape or other act of sexual violence can be partially addressed by measurement of S100B levels .

The drawback:
In order to be implemented in the legal system, the S100B test should be standardised, described in terms of time passed from the event to the time of sampling and used along with data from LEC to define the individual specificity of the test. For example, other childhood trauma can lower the specificity of the S100B test.
  • Epigenetic biomarkers of overactive fight-or-fligh system
Some papers suggest that certain epigenetic markers (cytosine methylation in promoter regions of the glucocorticoid related NR3C1 and FKBP51 genes, CpG sites within the AHRR locus associated with reduced DNA methylation, etc.) have shown to be specific in distinguising between PTSD and non-PTSD groups of patients . If proved in several other experiments, the same biomarkers could be used to prove the sexual trauma.


Trauma biomarkers, combined with other investigated stress biomarkers (Figure 1.), could become a routine metrics while examining the sex crime victims and later, all stress-related diseases or disorders, too.
Figure 1. A summary of key PTSD and potentially, general trauma biomarkers currently being evaluated .

[1]https://consultqd.clevelandclinic.org/a-biomarker-for-childhood-emotional-trauma/

[2]https://knowablemagazine.org/article/mind/2021/unseen-scars-childhood-trauma

[3]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3784793/

[4]https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0924977X17303693

[5]https://www.nature.com/articles/s41380-019-0370-z

[6]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6231511/

[7]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3774961/

[8]https://academic.oup.com/database/article/doi/10.1093/database/baz081/5525201

[9]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4520791/

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Hair cortisol levels as a time-defining factor

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Juranium Jul 10, 2021
Cortisol is a built-in alarm system of the body released into the circulation as a response to stress. Since it is impossible to measure the levels of cortisol in the blood at the time of the event (retrospectively), scientists found a way how to trace the levels of cortisol at certain times in the past. It is known that cortisol can affect the function and cyclic regulation of the hair follicle . In 2013, scientists measured the hair folicle level of cortisol in the control group and the group of patients that experienced stress . They found a strong negative correlation of cortisol levels in hair and " the severity of intrusion symptoms, the number of different traumatic events, the frequency of traumatization, and the time interval since traumatization".

The idea would be to extract the hair along with the follicle, cut it into small ordered pieces and analyze cortisol levels in all of them. That way, hair cortisol levels can be used not only to confirm the existence of stressful events in a patient's past but also to identify the exact time of the stressful event, since the hair has a (more or less) known rate of growth.

If combined with the Life Event Checklist questionnaire and other standard medical tests, hair cortisol levels could serve as unbeatable proof on the court.

[1]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27538002/

[2]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23623187/

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Povilas S
Povilas S5 months ago
It's a good idea, but it's not clear if such segmentation of a hair follicle and efforts to identify its concentrations in separate segments and link all this with separate traumatic events would lead anywhere. As my guess, it probably won't work. I don't think that you can read cortisol imprints in hair follicles in a way you can count years in tree rings. But I might be wrong.

For this we would need scientific studies addressing that part directly. It seems that in the article you gave they simply measured general cortisol levels in hair follicles and then tried to correlate it with various parameters of traumatic events in that person's history - the severity of the events, the frequency of them, how long ago did it happen, etc., they didn't say anything about timestamps according to the cortisol imprints, as I understand it was more of a generalized assessment.
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Juranium5 months ago
Povilas S I agree that the scientists in the paper did a different thing. My idea was also very basic, to just cut the hair and check the concentration of cortisol in each segment, by knowing the position of that segment compared to the follicle. It's very basic, but it could lead somewhere, I think. Maybe it's not the cortisol, but some physical change in hair structure caused by cortisol/stress. But yes, it requires more scientific effort. I'll do my best to search for more useful papers!
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