According to recent data from the Department of Defense, there were over 7,000 reports of sexual assault against service members in 2022. That number could be even higher, but unfortunately, many instances of sexual assault in the armed forces go unreported. This aligns with national statistics stating that less than 30 percent of sexual assault survivors make it to the hospital for a forensic medical exam. Without DNA evidence from an examination, it becomes more challenging to bring someone to justice. In response, the Defense Department has declared that it’s a top priority to prevent, respond to, and ensure accountability for sexual assault.
As part of this effort, the Air Force Work Project (AFWERX), a Technology Directorate of the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), has contracted with Leda Health, a company specializing in healthcare innovation, to explore the use case of early evidence – or self-collection – sexual assault kits. Leda’s Early Evidence Kits are a resource that allows survivors of sexual assault to collect their own evidence privately following a rape or sexual assault. As a result of this collaboration, Leda has partnered with the Forensic and National Security Sciences Institute at Syracuse University, which is providing forensic expertise and subject matter insight as Leda looks to scale up the distribution of their test kits.
Co-investigators from SU’s Forensic Science Institute include Executive Director Kathleen Corrado and Research Associate Professor Michael Marciano. They bring to the project extensive experience and knowledge of sexual assault kit processing and are well-versed in the latest technologies being used in the field. Both Corrado and Marciano have also served on the National Institute of Science and Technology’s Organization of Scientific Area Committees for Forensic Science (OSAC) Human Forensic Biology Subcommittee, which develops forensic science standards, including those related to the collection of biological evidence and forensic DNA analysis.
Marciano and Corrado are specifically assisting Leda with gap analysis assessment, examining evidence collection processes, the chain of custody, documentation, and legal issues that need to be considered when using early evidence kits. While currently wrapping up phase one of the project, which explores the feasibility of the self-collection test kits, Leda hopes to soon advance to phase two, which would involve a more in-depth exploration into the uses of the kits and their potential impact across different branches of the military.