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Researcher working to test rape kit dye that will work on all skin colors

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Posted June 21, 2013
Forensic nurses fully document sexual assault victims' injuries by using a dye that causes injuries to the skin to "light up."

Forensic nurses fully document sexual assault victims’ injuries by using a dye that causes injuries to the skin to “light up.”

After a rape, forensic nurses fully document sexual assault victims’ injuries by using a dye that causes lacerations and tears on the skin to “light up.” But the dye – a dark blue – doesn’t show on people of color, and that often means the perpetrators go free. A fluorescent dye may be the answer, posits University of Virginia researcher Kathryn Laughon, associate professor in the School of Nursing.

 

Laughon is now testing dyes that will illuminate tissue lacerations and abrasions for all skin types and colors.

Laughon, who is also an active forensic nurse examiner, explains that when women are examined after a suspected sexual assault, the nurse typically applies the dye, wipes the extra off, and areas of injury “light up.” Nurses like Laughon see two to three times as many injuries with the dye as without, so it’s a critical step in assessing what’s happened – and documenting it.

But for women of color, the contrasts don’t “light” in the same way. And if injuries don’t show, they’re not documented, and the perpetrators ultimately may never be prosecuted. Research has repeatedly found that black women who are raped are much less likely to move through the criminal justice system than their white peers, which may be due in large part to the way the dye works – or doesn’t work – on them.

“I don’t have a magic way to tell what happened,” says Laughon, “but at least all the victims are getting the same effectiveness from an exam. When we do find significant injuries, perpetrators are twice as likely to be charged, and then twice as likely to go to jail.”

Read more at: Phys.org

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