Forensic Nurses Collecting Domestic Violence Evidence

3:25 AM, Oct 31, 2013   |    comments
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GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Thursday marks the end of national Domestic Violence Awareness Month, but Cone Health MedCenter now is promoting the beginning of a new, potentially life-saving procedure--domestic violence evidence collection.

Cone Health MedCenter is training its forensic nurses to collect evidence that could help domestic violence victims obtain restraining orders or prove his or her case in a criminal trial.

WFMY News 2 spoke with Cone Health forensic nursing program coordinator Catherine Rossi, who provided a tour of one of the specialized treatment rooms.  She explained nurses are trained on how to take photographs and log other evidence.  They also are trained on how to provide emotional assistance and help victims find support resources, upon their request.

Rossi said the most common fear people express about having domestic violence collected is fear that their abuser will find out and inflict further harm. All evidence collected by the forensic nurses is confidential, Rossi said, and the exam is not recorded in the patient's standard medical record.  The evidence is sent to the local police department for storage, but Rossi said police cannot act on the incident based on this evidence, alone.

Yvonne Freeman, an Eden woman who left her abusive husband six times before seeking long-term assistance from Help, Incorporated, affirmed the importance of documenting instances of abuse.  She said her diary helped her get a restraining order against her then-husband.

Freeman said, "Get proof.  When you go to court, you don't sit there and cry and hope the judge sees how hopeless you feel.  You have proof. That's what they want in court."

Rossi explained domestic violence exams are conducted differently from sexual assault kits.  First and foremost, domestic violence exams focus on first providing physical care to the victims and then documenting evidence of abuse. 

"With sexual assault, it's different in that your attacker is somebody that you want to typically go forward and talk to the police about, whereas with domestic violence, you're going to be going home to the person that attacked you. This is perhaps your partner or your husband, someone that you love, and so there's a level of safety planning that we have to do."

Additionally, Rossi said unlike in sexual assault/rape cases, there is no collection of DNA and no immediate time frame in which the exam needs to be conducted.  Rossi explained domestic violence evidence collection actually is strongest when victims have the exam a few days after the abuse occurs-when bruising and scarring becomes most visible.

Last year, the Greensboro Police Department responded to 13,819 potential domestic violence calls. Women who have questions about the Cone Health forensic nurse domestic violence program are encouraged to call (336) 832-2966.

There also are 24-hour crisis hotline numbers to call.  For evidence collection, call Cone Health's Greensboro location at (336) 273-7273 or the High Point location at (336) 889-7273.  For general assistance about relief and counseling programs, call Help, Incorporated at (336) 342-3332.

WFMY News 2

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