Instant Photography: A Vital Tool in Fighting Domestic Violence

By Holbrook, Debra | Law & Order, November 2002 | Go to article overview

Instant Photography: A Vital Tool in Fighting Domestic Violence


Holbrook, Debra, Law & Order


In a May 2000 study conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, as many as one million violent crimes were committed annually against persons by an intimate partner. No one understands this sobering reality better than those who right on the front lines against domestic violence: law enforcement officers. prosecutors, social service advocates and healthcare professionals.

The emergency room at Nanticoke Memorial Hospital in Seaford, DE, has seen its fair share of sexual assault and domestic abuse victims over the years. The reasons behind these incidents of violence vary widely, but economic hard times clearly tend to intensify the problem. When things are tough at home and money worries are compounded, people who are verbally abusive often escalate their rage into physical abuse. Emergency room healthcare professionals and law enforcement officers in Seaford have noticed an increase in domestic violence cases in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, events.

In the past, doctors and nurses in the Nanticoke emergency room would provide reactive care to victims of domestic violence. But as more and more patients showed up offering explanations that didn't corroborate their injuries, it became apparent that a proactive approach toward patients who might be victims of sexual or domestic abuse would have to be developed.

Developing a New Approach

To address this difficult problem a comprehensive program was clearly needed. To truly make an impact for the victims would require a close collaboration between all the different agencies and professionals involved. To achieve this goal, the program would require new screening questions, specialized nurse training, and a coordinated investigative and treatment effort involving nurses, law enforcement officers and social service advocates. And a key component would involve photographic injury documentation.

While law enforcement personnel were sensitive to the problem of domestic violence, a severe lack of injury documentation existed since few officers had the necessary photographic equipment or training to properly record evidence of abuse. Without cameras in every patrol car, as well as in every emergency room, prosecutors would continue to be hampered in their attempts to achieve convictions.

"Whether they are taken by nurses at a hospital or by police officers in the field, instant photos of injuries are particularly helpful in domestic violence and child abuse cases," noted Melanie Withers, Delaware deputy attorney general. "They make it impossible for defendants to downplay the seriousness of an assault. They can also help make or break rape cases by capturing subtle evidence like bruises on the inner thighs."

Nanticoke hospital administrators were supportive of the proposed new program, but financial constraints made it impossible to provide funding. In order to purchase instant cameras for the emergency room, as well as for the police, it was determined that pursuing grants would be the only option.

A Crash Course in Fund Raising

With no prior experience in obtaining grants, the fledgling program was able to obtain more than $133,000 in Victims of Crime Act grants from the Department of Justice. The program also received an annually renewable $90,000 Delaware Public Health grant, due in part to a tremendous effort by Delaware House Representative Tina Fallon. In addition, grants were received from the hospital auxiliary and various other sources, many of which were identified through the Delaware Humanities Forum, an independent, nonprofit organization that supports humanities-related programs.

Each state has a Humanities Forum that publishes a list of private grantors that can be obtained for about $25. After reviewing the Humanities Forum list for Delaware, and identifying other potential funding sources, such as magazine publishers, a concept paper was developed. It identified shortcomings in the system and offered a plan for improvement, including a proposed basic budget. …

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