UCF professor uses forensics to research rape investigation methods

Photo by Samantha Bequer.

Candice Bridge, a Ph.D. professor at UCF, is one of a select few researchers in the country using forensic research on lubricated condoms to help identify rapists.

In November, Bridge was awarded a $324,000 grant from the National Institute of Justice for the development of a classification scheme and an associated database that can be used by crime labs.

“Sexual assaults happen more than we would like to admit as a community,” Bridge said. “But for those who it has affected, I’d like to find another way to help them.”

Preliminary research was carried out by Lauren Harvey, a masters student in forensic science with an analytic tract, and Mark Maric, a chemistry Ph.D. Their findings demonstrated that it is possible to distinguish between different types of lubricant samples often found in sexual assault cases.

study published in the Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine hypothesized that the increased knowledge of sexually transmitted diseases and expanding use of DNA in investigations has led assailants to protect themselves with condoms.

Research on lubricants is an area that is relatively unknown in America, Maric said.

“Most people don’t deal with lubricant evidence at all … it’s something that’s unique and relatively novel, especially in the forensic science field,” Maric said.

The 14 students on Bridge’s research team are conducting research in the areas of lubricants in sexual assaults, drugs, toxicology and gunshot residue. State of the art technology reserved for the FBI and select federal and state forensic laboratories will be available to them.

The grant allots the research team two years to collect evidence on the various categories of lubricants used with condoms and their chemical markers. Once the research stage is finished, the chemical markers in the database will be compared to trace evidence in investigations to help narrow down a suspect list when DNA evidence is not present.

While this research will not replace the use of DNA evidence in investigations, it will provide a new way for crime labs to approach identification and convictions of suspects.

The National Center for Forensic Science, located at UCF, works to provide research and operational support to the criminal justice community. NCSF currently hosts six databases on its website.

“We created those working with the community in a partnership. [They] are used every day in the forensic community to help them with casework and I think [the lubricant database] will be a wonderful addition,” said Machael Sigman, the director of NCFS.

Once the database is compiled, it is expected to also be hosted on the NCFS website and be implemented in crime labs. Local law enforcement officers have made their interest known in utilizing the database as soon as it is up and running.

Bridge was working at the Defense Forensic Science Center, formerly known as the U.S. Army Criminal Investigative Laboratory, when she was exposed to lubricant analysis. Now, she works as an assistant professor in the UCF Department of Chemistry and teaches an Introduction to Forensic Science course.

“One of the things I have tried to bring into the class is some of these TV [crime] show clips and based on what the students have learned in the class, we’ll dissect [forensic scenes],” Bridge said.

Demonstrating the difference between the actual forensic process and the way it is commonly portrayed on TV helps dispel misconception about forensic science practices, Bridge said.

Bridge received an In-House Award from UCF for additional research on how lubricant properties degrade prior to forensic analysis.

She also received a service contract with the Orlando Public Defender’s Office for an educational website. The site is intended to help prosecution and defense attorneys better understand the actualities and limitations of forensic analysis to better support what they are presenting in court.

“God is good and he has afforded me a lot of opportunities to develop my craft and I just hope that I can pass along these opportunities to my students and any other student that is interested,” said Bridge.