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June 1992

Sexual Abuse of Children: The Detection of Semen on Skin

Author Affiliations

From the Division of Behavioral and Developmental Pediatrics, University of California, San Francisco (Drs Gabby, Winkleby, and Boyce) and the Forensic Science Group, School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley (Mss Fisher and Lancaster and Dr Sensabaugh).

Am J Dis Child. 1992;146(6):700-703. doi:10.1001/archpedi.1992.02160180058017

• Objective.  —The detection of semen on the skin of children who present within 72 hours of an episode of sexual assault is critical to medical, forensic, and legal personnel. The Wood's Lamp, a UV light that causes semen to fluoresce, and four forensic laboratory techniques were compared to determine their sensitivity and decline in sensitivity over time.

Design.  —A descriptive study.

Participants.  —Eleven adult female volunteers.

Measurements/Main Results.  —Semen was placed on the skin of the volunteers. Samples of the dried semen were assessed during a 28-hour period with the Wood's Lamp, microscopy, the acid phosphatase assay, and two assays for the prostatic protein p30 (counterimmunoelectrophoresis and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay). The intensity of the Wood's Lamp fluorescence of semen diminished dramatically by 28 hours; in contrast, the fluorescence of urine persisted up to 80 hours. Over time, the p30—enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay technique was more sensitive than microscopy, the acid phosphatase assay, and p30-counterimmunoelectrophoresis in detecting semen on skin.

Conclusions.  —The Wood's Lamp is not a sensitive screening tool and should be used with caution. To improve the detection of sexual abuse in children, we recommend that the p30—enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay be used because of its potential as a more sensitive assay than those in current clinical use.(AJDC. 1992;146:700-703)

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