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Sexual assault has a horrifying effect on the victims and the individuals who were affected by it as witnesses. This type of crime has a lengthy history; however, it is also well-known as a type of crime directly connected to shame that can depower the victims. As a result, rape and sexual harassment cases tend to be underreported much more often than the crimes of other types. In fact, according to the statistical data provided by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, on average, about 65% to 42% of rape cases remain unreported in the United States every year (Langton, 2012).
This tendency may occur due to a variety of reasons such as when the assault is dealt with on a personal level of the victim’s party, when the victim did not feel that the crime was important enough to report, when the victim was pressurized to remain silent, or when the victim did not want the offender to get in trouble (Langton, 2012). Also, it turns out that a large portion of sexual crimes is unresolved even after being reported. There is a number of reasons for this phenomenon as well. For instance, in some of the cases of sexual assault the investigators did not have enough evidence, and for the others, the legislation did not have a framework to rely on. Finally, one of the common reasons why sexual assault cases of the past remained unsolved was the lack of technology allowing the police to identify the offenders. This paper presents an overview and discussion of one of such cases – the case of the East Area Rapist.
The case of the East Area Rapist is massive, and it currently includes over fifty different crimes that were committed throughout the years between 1976 and 1986 (FBI, 2016). To date, this case remains a cold case with a large number of victims, crime scenes, and pieces of the forensic evidence; however, the offender is still unknown. Apart from the East Area Rapist his individual has been known as the Golden State Killer, the Diamond Knot Killer, and the Original Night Stalker. As can be seen from the nicknames given to the offender, many of the crimes he committed involved sexual assault, homicide, or both; in addition, the criminal also raided the houses of his victims and took different things such as expensive pieces of jewelry or small mementos (personal things of the victims), allegedly as objects to remember his victims by (FBI, 2016).
Overall, according to the current data of the Federal Bureau of Investigations, the unknown offender is now deemed responsible for as many as forty-five sexual assaults, twelve homicides, and one hundred and twenty robberies (FBI, 2016). All of the crimes were committed in different counties and communities of California. Even though the crimes took place thirty to forty years ago, there is still likelihood that the East Area Rapist is alive and can be found, arrested, and punished for what he did. The current data available to the investigators describes the offender as “a white male, close to six feet tall, with blond or light brown hair and an athletic build” (FBI, 2016, para. 7). Also, it is suspected that the individuals had law enforcement or military training; and it is known that he was proficient with guns. Today, according to the projections of the investigators, he would be approximately sixty to seventy-five years old (FBI, 2016).
Most victims of the East Area Rapist were women staying home alone or with children; he would break in their homes wearing a self-made or a ski mask, tie up, rape (and, in some cases, murder) his victims, ransack their homes taking different things and food, and then leave.
Discussing the how the forensic analysis of the crime scenes in the 1970s and the 1980s was carried out, it is important to remember that the development of the forensic technology back then was at a significantly less advanced stage than it is today. The crime scene investigators working with all the rape, homicide, and burglary cases that are currently known to be committed by the East Area Rapist treated most of them as separate cases because, at the time, DNA analysis was not a part of the forensic analysis; and as a result, the was not enough evidence to link all those cases to one another as crimes committed by the same individual (Crompton, 2010).
The pieces of evidence available to the crime scene investigators of the East Area Rapist cases included footprints, fingerprints, objects that were stolen from the houses of the victims, the surviving victims’ and witnesses’ encounters and experiences with the criminal, and their descriptions of his appearance (Crompton, 2010). Based on these characteristics, it was practically impossible to associate some of the crimes he committed with one another, especially knowing that some of them had very different patterns and took place in different towns. The investigators connected similar rape cases and the ones that involved the type of knot typically used by the East Area Rapist to tie up his victims (Crompton, 2010). However, a large portion of crimes that are now associated with the East Area Rapist was added to the list years later, when DNA analysis made its entry to the field of criminal forensics in the United States in 1987 (Genetic Science Learning Center, n.d.). By the time when DNA analysis became available as a forensic test, many of the DNA samples collected as evidence of the East Area Rapist cases had degraded, and their validity was partially or completely lost.
The Modern Technology
Due to the advancement of technology, DNA analysis is one of the primary forensic tests relied on by investigators and legal authorities in the contemporary world. In fact, this technology, as helpful as it is, has been developed over the last ten years and demonstrated some new and successful breakthroughs. Overall, there are two major applications of DNA in forensics. First of all, it can be used to help the crime scene investigators to identify the offenders by means of collecting the DNA samples; secondly, it is applied in order to determine whether or not the identified suspects should be associated with any particular case via the offender DNA database that helps maintain records of the criminals (The United States Department of Justice, n.d.).
While the technology itself is highly effective and very helpful as the forensics instrument, the legislation regulating its implementation is not without flaw. To be more precise, when it comes to the sexual crimes, to date, there exists a large backlog of unanalyzed DNA kits that have been stored for decades (The United States Department of Justice, n.d.). This tendency occurs because in the rape cases where there is no suspect, the DNA analysis is not carried out because there is no individual to whose DNA the results could be compared (The United States Department of Justice, n.d.). Funding has been directed to the U.S. law enforcement to eliminate the backlog.
Alongside the delay in implementation, the technology of DNA analysis has been evolving. Today, an urgent DNA test can be completed within just thirty minutes and DNA samples as old as one year can be still analyzed. In addition, the new strategies relying on DNA analysis were established; they include familial searching (uses the DNA connections between relatives), mtDNA profiling (for the analysis of the degraded samples), kinship matching (works similarly to the familial searching), Y-STR DNA profiling (helps to distinguish between different DNA mixed together), and DNA phenotyping (may help identify aspects of the physical appearance of an offender) (Smith & Mann, 2015).
How the Modern Technology Could Help
The latter technology (DNA phenotyping) could be particularly useful in the East Area Rapist cases since the offender’s appearance was unknown and several different photo-fits were created based on the descriptions of multiple victims and witnesses. It is a rather new strategy, and it has not been tested or researched much. According to a recent study by Kayser (2015), DNA phenotyping allows the scientists to predict the traits of the physical appearance of the unknown suspects or unidentified deceased persons. Practically, this technology has the potential to add the third application of DNA testing apart from the identification of the offenders from the DNA databases or matching the DNA data from a crime scene to that of a suspect. DNA phenotypes refer to the parts of an individual’s DNA responsible for personal traits (Koops & Schellekens, 2008). In addition, MacLean (2014) reports that currently, DNA phenotyping technology can successfully predict such characteristics as hair and eye color, approximate height, sex, skin color or race; moreover, the study conducted in Britain determined that even the last name of an individual can be identified in terms of the ethnic origin (this prediction has a much lower level of reliability than the others). As a result, in the case of the East Area Rapist, the investigation could benefit from this technology and shape a more accurate photo-fit of the offender.
Even though the technology of DNA phenotyping is very promising, it requires a lot of research in order to enter the field of criminal forensics as a reliable instrument. This technology has not been applied in any trials but was experimentally employed to identify the likely appearances of the offenders in the unsolved cases from the past. In other words, Dan phenotyping would not stand up to a Daubert hearing.
To sum up, the East Area Rapist cases that took place between 1976 and 1986 remain unsolved. The FBI continues the search for the offender who could still be alive. The modern technology provides a greater range of opportunities for the crime scene investigators to resolve cases successfully. The major problem, in this case is the fact that it took place long ago and many of pieces of evidence have degraded. However, if only the modern technology of DNA testing (even without the phenotyping) were available back then, it is likely that the law enforcement could become successful and capture the offender.
Crompton, L. (2010). Sudden terror. Bloomington, IN: Author House.
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FBI. (2016). Cold case killer. Web.
Genetic Science Learning Center. (n.d.). Can DNA demand a verdict? Web.
Kayser, M. (2015). Forensic DNA phenotyping: Predicting human appearance from crime scene material for investigative purposes. Forensic Science International. Genetics, 18, 33-48.
Koops, B. & Schellekens, M. (2008). Forensic DNA phenotyping: Regulatory issues. Science and Technology Law Review, 9, 158-202.
Langton, L. (2012). Victimizations not reported to the police, 2006-2010. Web.
MacLean, C. E. (2014). Creating a wanted poster from a drop of blood: using DNA phenotyping to generate an artist’ s rendering of an offender based only on DNA shed at the crime scene. Hamline Law Review, 36(3), 357-386.
Smith, M. & Mann, M. (2015). Recent developments in DNA evidence. Web.
The United States Department of Justice. (n.d.). Using DNA to solve crimes. Web.