Sheffield & South Yorkshire

Sheffield university condom research to help catch sex offenders

Fingerprint comparison image
Image caption Scientists have used mass spectrometry imaging to devise their method

Sex offenders hoping to evade detection by wearing a condom could be identified by a new technique, scientists say.

The method, developed by researchers at Sheffield Hallam University, can detect condom lubricant on fingerprints left by a suspect at a crime scene.

It is hoped the technique could also be used to match lubricant found on a fingermark with swabs from the victim.

There has been an increase in the use of condoms by sex offenders, partly to prevent the transfer of DNA evidence.

Improved evidence

Dr Simona Francese, from the university's biomedical research centre, said: "Offenders are increasingly aware of forensic issues and it is common now for condoms to be used and removed from the scene of a sexual assault.

"However, they are less likely to consider the possibility of lubricant transferring onto their fingertips and then into fingermarks left at the scene.

"If condom lubricant can be detected in fingermarks it would improve the evidence for the prosecution by establishing the assailant's presence at the scene and, crucially, having had contact with a condom.

"This would enable forensic scientists to provide further support to the evidence in alleged cases of sexual assault."

Researchers reported detecting for the first time lubricant from two widely available condom brands.

The technique, using MALDI-MSI (matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionisation mass spectrometry imaging), proved to be successful even on fingermarks left several weeks before analysis.

The academics hope the technique can eventually be used to identify distinctive lubricants that could indicate a specific condom manufacturer and possibly even a particular brand.

"This would allow the forensic case to be profiled in an even stronger way," the university said.

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