Ashley Hall of the University of Illinois – Chicago describes how forensic nurses can apply traditional crime scene techniques to cases of elder abuse.
My name is Ashley Hall. I’m an Assistant Professor in Forensic Science at the University of Illinois, Chicago. I have been a forensic scientist for about 15 years now. I specialize in human DNA. We look at very difficult, damaged, and low template samples.
This project started as a collaboration with a student. I was teaching a forensic biology class, so I was teaching them how to body fluid identification. She was in my class, and she was interested in forensic nursing, and she’s actually training to be one right now.
So we started a series of conversations before and after class where we talked about the potential applications of what I do with what she does. So we thought then, if you look at the crime scene as where the crime has taken place (so the totality of it in the case of abuse then is the body of the person plus the physical surroundings of where it happened). So if we take a look at the trauma to the person, but then add in details from the “what is a crime scene?” – using standard techniques that we use at a crime scene, looking at body fluids, perhaps blood spatter patterns, concentrations of different body fluids, we may get a more complete story and get some supporting evidence as to what’s happened to a person.
And these are techniques that we’ve been doing for years. The ones that I’ve tested are very standard ones. They can be done at the scene, and they’re tried and true. So, we just take what we already know how to do and expand it to “what is a crime scene”.
There are a number of reasons why the abuse doesn’t get reported, just like in any case of abuse. Studies have also shown that with elders, it takes many visits before you can identify and separate out the cases of abuse from natural accidents. So, by adding the piece of looking at the scene around where the alleged abuse happened, we may be able to add to that investigation, identify earlier cases of abuse, and get the victim out of that situation. Then, going further, it would be corroborating evidence in a court of law to help increase the probability of a successful prosecution.
What we’ve seen over the years is the use of multi-disciplinary teams and now onto the forensic elderly abuse centers. Doing a multi-disciplinary approach greatly increases the chances that charges are brought and the chances of a successful prosecution. So, this is just another piece to that puzzle. It’s trying to get all the evidence that we possibly can to support a good outcome.
So, we’re talking about body fluid profiling at the scene, but then samples that may be probative could be taken to the lab for DNA profiling for individualization to link that specific person to that body fluid. So, it’s using the standard techniques at the crime scene that we’ve been using for years and just applying them to add something to the case.