The issue of Wood’s Lamps and other alternate light sources (ALS) in sexual assault medical forensic exams came up this week and it got me thinking about how often we do things because we were taught we should, and not because they’ve been shown to be particularly useful or effective. So I thought I’d take a few minutes to highlight the literature out there on ALS in the detection of semen on the bodies of sexual assault patients.
The general gist of the literature is that Wood’s Lamps are ineffective for consistently identifying semen in the medical forensic exam; other types of ALS seem to be more effective. That being said, being able to document the presence of a glowing substance (since many things fluoresce under ALS) may still be of limited value for the forensic healthcare professional. You can check out the following articles for research and information on the subject. Full-text articles were included where widely available online; otherwise, I have linked to abstracts. To be clear, the amount of research done on the subject is not overwhelming–there’s a definite need for more data as related to detection of semen on the human body with the tools generally found in clinical practice.
- An Alternate Light Source to Detect Semen
- Alternate Light Source Use in Forensic Nursing
- Comparison of laser and ultraviolet techniques used in the detection of body secretions
- Wood’s Lamp Utility in the Identification of Semen
- Sexual Abuse of Children: Detection of Semen on Skin
- The Use of an Alternative Light Source to Detect Semen in Clinical Forensic Medical Practice
- Fluorescent Identification of Biological and Other Stains on Skin by the Use of Alternate Light Sources
- Alternate light sources in sexual assault examinations: An evidence-based practice project
- Evaluation of anogenital injury using white and UV light among adult volunteers after consensual sexual intercourse
Please note, I am not directing you to abandon your existing protocols and stop using Wood’s Lamp and other forms of ALS. However, I would suggest you be able to articulate why you use them and understand their limitations. And keep in mind, I’m not addressing the use of ALS for the detection of bruising or other types of injury. We’ll tackle that one in another post…
If you have other references on this topic, please let me know in the comments!