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As a forensic nurse and former death investigator for the State of Maryland’s medical examiner’s office, George Mason University researcher Katherine Scafide has long served people who fell victim to violence.
“One of the challenges I would face much of the time was examining injuries on victims of violence who have darker skin," said Scafide, who is a professor in the School of Nursing in Mason's College of Health and Human Services. “If we can't see the injury, then we can't document it. That documentation serves as really important evidence in court.”
Since 2017, Scafide has been experimenting with "seeing" bruises using alternate light sources, such as UV light, which are already widely used in forensics to find evidence like blood or hair fibers. With grant support from the U.S. Department of Justice, she conducted a study and discovered that using alternate light was five times better at detecting bruises on victims across a variety of skin tones than white light. Results of the study were published in the Journal of Forensic Sciences.
Her work has received national attention from people such as filmmaker and humanitarian Angelina Jolie, who came to Mason to meet with Scafide and learn more about her research. In her work on reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, Jolie is advocating for more funding and training for technologies like the one that Scafide has created.
In November 2021, Scafide, who is known as the “paintball lady” for her unique method of creating bruises, was appointed to a three-year term on the National Institute of Standards and Technology's Organization of Scientific Area Committees for Forensic Science (OSAC), where she will assist in drafting the national standards for forensic nursing and medical practice.