Nursing Prof. Reducing Inequality in Forensic Exams for Sexual Assault Victims

By: Jessica Cunnington Email
By: Jessica Cunnington Email

June 20, 2013

One UVa Nursing School professor is hoping her project will help millions of sexual assault victims.

There are lots of resources for women at the emergency department following a sexual assault and one of them is a forensic exam if the woman wants to move forward with prosecution.

Associate Professor Kathryn Laughon says in almost half of sexual assaults of women there are no genital injuries but the dye used to see if those genital injuries are even there, doesn't work on millions of women.

"Right now we use a blue dye that helps highlight those injuries and make them more visible," said Laughon. "The problem that I've encountered and what other researchers have noted is that the blue dye simply doesn't help against dark skin."

"You could imagine yourself there and you know you've been brutally hurt and violated and then you go to the emergency department and there's nothing to show," said Sexual Assault Resource Agency Director Rebecca Weybright. "You can feel it, internally but there's nothing showing externally."

Laughon is testing a fluorescent dye that would work on all victims' skin-tones.

"I want to make sure for individuals who do want to pursue charges that they have the same access to documentation and evidence collection that everyone has," she said.

Right now, women of color are not getting the same documentation and they're less likely to move through the criminal justice system than white women.

"We also have evidence that suggests when injuries are carefully detected and noted those cases are twice as likely to move forward in the criminal justice system and twice as likely to result in a guilty finding," Laughon said.

And that's just one of the things that pushes her to make sure all women have the scientific evidence and support they need after a sexual assault.

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