How scientists try to identify pedophiles by studying their hands

How scientists try to identify pedophiles by studying their hands


In videos or pictures of children who are sexually abused, the perpetrators often remain hidden behind the camera while their hands remain visible. This represented a challenge for police forces around the world to identify suspects.

Staying off-screen may have given them anonymity in the past, but now Sue Black of the Department of Anatomy and Forensic Anthropology at the University of Dundee has devised a way to identify offenders by studying the unique characteristics of each individual.

According to Black, “there is a genetic component of how some hands look in general”.

“And then we can see the details … There are similarities between the right and left hand, but on different“.

Sue Black
Copyright of SUE BLACK image
Image caption Sue Black from the University of Dundee

The first thing Black examines is the vein pattern. This is generated randomly when the individual is a fetus in the womb and, therefore, is unique, he explains. No two sets of vein structures are the same, even in identical twins. In fact, even the left and right hands of a person will have different patterns seen ace .

The areas of pigmentation (birthmarks, moles and freckles) can also constitute what Black calls the “personal bar code” of an individual.

The scars provide additional and invaluable clues. Non-surgical scars are particularly valuable according to Black, because they are of irregular shape and size, variable position and each has its own color or texture on the skin depending on how it was cured.

The particular crease pattern that the skin creates over the knuckles is another unique morphological feature, as distinctive as a fingerprint. They are different on each finger and there are not two people who have an exact match.


Finally, Black pays close attention to the lunules, small white half-moon patches that most people have at the base of their nails. An irregular crescent on the thumb of a suspect and helped identify the suspect of an image and to ensure subsequent conviction.

After years of research, Black has accumulated a large database to support his research.

She believes that continuing to study anatomical variation, along with advances in the biometrics industry, can further help develop this field and lead to safer and more far-reaching conclusions.

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