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When a 13-year-old girl was raped by her schoolteacher in Zambia in 2006, a developing country in southern Africa, she had few options.
Even if she went to a police station or hospital to have a DNA sample from her attacker collected, the chance of any evidence resulting in a prosecution was slim.
In Zambia, a country of 13 million people, there is no forensic laboratory capable of doing DNA analysis. The country's court system has never seen a conviction based on DNA evidence in a sexual assault case.
But a South Salt Lake City-based forensics lab is working to change that.
Sorenson Forensics, which has operated in the business of forensic DNA testing for more than 20 years, on Monday will host a group from Zambia as part of a global outreach program aimed at stopping child sexual abuse in Zambia.
"This is a multiprong approach that includes the police, medical care, advocacy, criminal prosecution and a DNA forensic laboratory to develop the evidence necessary for prosecution," said Tim Kupferschmid, executive director at Sorenson Forensics. "[We] help to establish forensic DNA laboratories in developing countries, such as Zambia. They are coming to our facility to gain a greater understanding of a forensic DNA laboratory and how we could help them establish one in Lusaka."
Zambia's epidemic of child rape is staggering.
According to a 2006 study by YWCA located in the country's capital of Lusaka, an average of eight rape cases a week were reported by girls at the YWCA center. That doesn't include unreported rapes, or sexual crimes reported to other shelters.
The global organization Human Rights Watch has reported the girls in Zambia are often victims of sexual exploitation, particularly by their teachers and other authority figures.
Girls who have been assaulted can go to the country's One Stop Center at the University Teaching Hospital in Lusaka, said Charles Clemons, a sexual assault forensic examiner and Oakland, Calif., physician who works with the Zambian Society for Child Protection. The society is sponsored by the Georgian Foundation, a California nonprofit that works to improve health and social welfare in impoverished countries.
Zambia's One Stop Center was created to examine children who were sexually abused, to offer them HIV prophylaxis and other medical treatment and to also conduct a forensic exam, Clemons said.
"We have seen up to 135 children come to the One Stop Center in one month for exam and treatment. The medical and forensic exam capacity of the One Stop Center is increasing," he said. But, he noted, even though forensic exams are being conducted, there is no lab to perform the DNA analysis closer than Pretoria, South Africa.
Police in Zambia try to take cases there as often as possible, but the processing is time-consuming, Clemons said.
"Although there is an arrangement through Interpol for police agencies to work together, there is a great backlog of evidence to be processed in Pretoria," he said. "Less than 1 percent of cases that present to the One Stop Center get all the way to a conviction because of broken chain of evidence and lack of DNA evidence processing capability."
Clemons hopes the trip to Sorenson Forensics, which he will make with the head of the victim support unit and the head of forensics for the Zambian National Police, will result in new ideas for developing a similar lab in Zambia. The group will learn how Sorenson Forensics processes evidence and works with police agencies around the country.
A team from Sorenson Forensics also plans to visit Zambia in mid-January to help get plans off the ground and tackle cases like the 13-year-old rape victim who was assaulted by her teacher shortly before the Zambian government adopted the African Union's Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa in 2006.
The girl and her family pursued a ground-breaking legal case against her rapist, Edward Hakasenke, in 2008. He was convicted, with a judge mentioning with the verdict that young girls are at risk for the country's epidemic of HIV and AIDS when raped.
Cases like the conviction of Hakasenke are motivation to help developing countries like Zambia improve their technology, Kupferschmid said.
Clemons said the Zambia police officials will bring with them some evidence from pending child sexual abuse cases, such as blood and semen, to get a jump on processing DNA while in the U.S.
Improving the speed of forensic processing is vital in Zambia so "we may proceed with prosecution and conviction in Zambia," Clemons said. Highlighting DNA cases will also alert Zambia's government to the problem of child rape and encourage more funding for better forensic labs in the country, he said.
O Find the Georgian Foundation online.