Mar 25, 2014
07:47 AMConnecticut Today
Connecticut Forensic Scientist Targets Sex Trafficking Through DNA
Peter Hvizdak/New Haven Register
Timothy M. Palmbach, University of New Haven Chair & Associate Professor of the Forensic Science Department and the Executive Director of the Institute of Forensic Science in a UNH Forensic Science lab.
Victims of human trafficking are often stripped of their passports, identification, and ultimately, their identities.
DNA is the one thing that remains with a victim, and for that reason and others, it can be a powerful tool in combatting human trafficking, according to forensic scientist Timothy Palmbach.
Palmbach, chairman of the Forensic Science Department at the University of New Haven, set out last year to test the use of DNA analysis in identifying victims, prosecuting traffickers and ultimately, developing a DNA database of victims and at-risk persons. Palmbach retired from the state Department of Public Safety in 2004, last serving as a major in charge of the Division of Scientific Services.
The number of victims trafficked worldwide remains unknown, but a 2012 figure from the International Labour Organization estimated 20.9 million victims are enslaved in the modern-day form of slavery.
“It’s going to take bold, large-scale initiatives to make this thing work, and DNA’s going to be a big part of that,” Palmbach said.
During an eight-month sabbatical, Palmbach ventured to a number of places, including Costa Rica, Nepal and Djibouti to see if he could successfully identify and obtain DNA samples from victims and possible perpetrators.
“The question was: Could we do that with the ultimate goal of getting enough evidence available for a particular country, so they could actually proceed with cases against the perpetrators?” Palmbach asked.
The short answer, he said, is yes.
DNA has “value on a multitude of fronts” and can serve as an “objective” tool to support a victim’s testimony.