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New Technology Shows Bruises on Darker-Skinned Assault Victims

New research is exploring ways to detect bruises on individuals with darker skin in an effort to aid assault investigations, NPR reports. Katherine Scafide, an associate professor at George Mason University, worked as a forensic nurse for eight years. During that time, she noticed something about survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence with black or brown skin: it was hard to see their injuries. "Bruises tell us a lot about what has happened to a particular patient who's experienced violence and unfortunately if I can't see the bruise clearly it really limits my ability of what to document and what to report in the medical record," Scafide said. Scafide and her team at GMU found that blue or purple light is as much as five times better at detecting bruises on those patients. The Justice Department praised the work as a model of inclusive research. Scafide is now developing a set of guidelines for forensic nurses on using blue or purple light to detect bruises.

That's of special interest to Nancy Downing, an associate professor at the Center for Excellence in Forensic Nursing at Texas A & M University. "It's really important to me that we are not promoting something to be used without people understanding how to use it correctly," Downing said. Juries want to see evidence of injuries. But there need to be scientifically validated standards for using these technologies to help prevent wrongful convictions. Chris Fabricant, a lawyer at the Innocence Project, agreed. "The use on the front end of unreliable or untested forensic evidence to secure convictions makes it really almost impossible to undo miscarriages of justice unless you have conclusive DNA," Fabricant said. DNA is often not available at crime scenes, despite its prominence in the popular culture, which makes it all the more important to develop objective standards for evaluating bruises, he said.


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