University of Leicester wins Research Project of the Year: Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences

University receives Times Higher Education Award for a pioneering kit that enables victims of sexual violence to capture DNA evidence.

Work led by Professor Lisa Smith in the Department of Criminology in collaboration with Professor Mark Jobling and Dr Jon Wetton in Genetics and Genome Biology has won Research Project of the Year: Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at the Times Higher Education Awards on Thursday 29 November.

The awards, now in their 14th year and widely referred to as the “Oscars of higher education”, shine a spotlight on the exceptional achievements of individuals, teams and institutions working in our sector today.

The Research Project of the Year: Arts, Humanities and Social Science is awarded to the individual or team at a UK HE institution for innovative arts, humanities or social sciences research that has a far-reaching impact and has caught, or has the potential to catch, the imagination of the public. 

All over the world, sexual violence against girls and women is one of the most devastating consequences of gender inequality. Yet in many countries, a combination of cultural factors and inadequate training for police officers and medical staff means that investigations and prosecutions are very rare.

These cases are notoriously difficult to prosecute, often because of a lack of available evidence. While DNA can be collected through medical examination this is often far more difficult in remote or impoverished regions. Professor Smith’s project is investigating alternative DNA recovery techniques and pioneered a kit that enables victims of sexual violence to self-examine for DNA evidence.

Funding from Elrha’s Humanitarian Innovation Fund enabled the team to explore the barriers to forensic science in poor countries, and the relationship between evidence, prosecutions and justice from the perspective of victims of sexual violence.

It is hoped that the research can provide tools for introducing DNA evidence into sexual violence investigations and prosecutions in regions where this has not previously been possible.

The award judges were “excited by the potential of this project to tackle a major issue and secure justice for victims of crime”. They admired both the technical innovation and the way that the researchers had considered the socio-economic and legal frameworks in which the kits would be used.

After collecting the award, Professor Lisa Smith said: “I am so incredibly proud of this project, and grateful to the research team and our international partners for all of their hard work and dedication over the past couple of years. We are really honoured to have been recognised by the THE Awards, and we look forward to the next stages of this research working toward global impact to improve outcomes for survivors of sexual violence.”

President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leicester Professor Paul Boyle CBE said: “This is an incredibly powerful piece of research that has resulted in real impact at grassroots level and on criminal justice. The ability of research to change lives and empower communities is demonstrated through projects such as this which have a global impact and address humanitarian challenges. The University is proud that the excellence of its research has been recognised by this prestigious award and I congratulate Professor Lisa Smith and colleagues on their deserved accolade.”

This work is currently funded by the Humanitarian Innovation Fund.