Martha Goddard: The woman who revolutionized sexual assault forensics


  • Misty D. Jeter
  • Jennifer Schmitz member


sexual assault, women in forensic science, sexual assault evidence, rape kit, Martha Goddard


Martha Goddard had an invaluable impact on the field of forensic science. She was a victims’ advocate who desperately wanted to change the investigative approach toward sexual assaults. In the 1970s, law enforcement was trained to believe that women who were raped lacked decency and morality. If a rape case ever made it to a courtroom, the victim was painted as a scorned lover wanting revenge on a man with a roving eye. Before the era of DNA testing, lack of evidence posed the greatest challenge to reaching a guilty verdict for the defendant. The government could not reach a guilty verdict with little or no physical evidence connecting the defendant to the crime. No consistent methodology had been established regarding the collection of evidence in a rape case. If evidence was collected, it was often inadvertently destroyed or cross-contaminated. Martha Goddard pioneered the first rape kit that established a clear and methodical manner to collect evidence from a victim. That evidence could then be used to positively identify the defendant, creating a more prosecutable case. Victims of sexual assault now had the means to prove the guilt of their perpetrators. Those who fell prey to sexual offenders were no longer subjected to cruel misperceptions of their virtue. Instead, blame was now being placed where it belonged, on the offender.