Navigating the various barriers to receiving help as a domestic violence survivor is already an uphill battle. But for survivors of color, skin tone can be another barrier.
Physical exams to detect bruising can be used as evidence in civil, criminal, and family court proceedings. But bruises can be harder for examiners to see on darker skin tones since there can be less contrast.
Researcher Dr. Katherine Scafide, a former forensic nurse examiner and researcher at George Mason University, may have found a solution. Instead of using traditional white light sources, Scafide and her team discovered that an “alternative light source,” such as blue or purple light was five times more effective at showing bruises on darker skin tones.
The news could have massive implications for Black and brown survivors of domestic violence. Over 40 percent of Black women experience intimate partner violence during their lifetime, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
Being able to prove injuries isn’t just helpful in a court setting. Getting your medical care covered through programs intended to help survivors of violent crimes can also be tied to proving your injuries.
Scafide told NPR News that the next step is training nurses to use the blue and purple lights to detect bruising.
As Chris Fabricant, a lawyer at the Innocence Project, noted to NPR News, any new evidence tools must be thoroughly tested before they’re used in courtrooms.
The risks of using unscientific methods are huge. For example, tools like bite-mark evidence, where so-called experts analyze how a defendant bites into something to connect them to the crime, have been used to put innocent people in prison.
Junk science examples aside, it’s possible that this lite breakthrough could help validate the voices of survivors who are fighting to be heard.