Forensic lecturer wins fellowship for sexual offence investigations

“This research has the potential to directly help victims of sexual assault and improve forensic practice but it also gives me the opportunity to use that knowledge in my teaching.”

Dr Laura Walton-Williams, Lecturer in Criminal Justice and Forensic Science

A forensic scientist from Staffordshire University has received exclusive funding to explore how the early stages of sexual assault investigations can be improved in the UK.

Dr Laura Walton-Williams, Lecturer in Criminal Justice and Forensic Science, is one of only a hundred people chosen to receive a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship this year from more than a thousand applicants.

She has carried out extensive research into sexual offence investigations, specialising in biological evidence recovery and forensic DNA analysis, and bid for the fellowship from the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust to fund a research trip to America and Canada.

She said: “I'm delighted to have been chosen. This is an area of forensic investigation that I'm passionate about and the travelling fellowship gives me an exciting opportunity to learn more about how cases are handled abroad.”

Dr Walton-Williams will spend eight weeks overseas later this year and plans to visit crime laboratories, sexual offence support groups and forensic facilities including the National Sexual Violence Resource Center in Pennsylvania and the Vera Institute of Justice in New York.

Her main interests lie in the initial stages of an investigation and the recovery of DNA evidence from rape victims as little research has been published in this area. She also hopes to explore ways of encouraging more victims of sexual assault to come forward for support.

“It is estimated that less than 20% of people who have been sexually assaulted come forward to report it, and there are particular groups who are less likely to report including male victims, those from ethnic minority groups and the LGBT community.” she explained.

“I think it's really important to raise the profile of services like Sexual Assault Referral Centres and to look at how we can give more victims the confidence to seek help.”

“This trip gives me a chance to compare and contrast ways of working in the US and Canada with protocols in the UK, learn about the latest techniques and then bring back that knowledge to inform how we conduct sexual offence investigations in the UK.”

Dr Walton-Williams will also use her findings to inform teaching on the University's Criminal Justice and Forensic Science courses and hopes to explore opportunities for collaborative research in this area in the future.

“This research has the potential to directly help victims of sexual assault and improve forensic practice but it also gives me the opportunity to use that knowledge in my teaching, which benefits our students and the University.”

Find out about Staffordshire University's range of Forensic courses here.


 

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