Family Justice Center receives grant to acquire 'game-changing' equipment to aid domestic violence victims and prosecutors
The Family Justice Center says its number of new or repeat domestic violence calls doubled in a 17-month period since the onset of the COVID pandemic, and the caseload continues to increase. On Wednesday, it received a critical financial boost to help victims, as well as those who prosecute the abusers.
New York State is providing $100,000 to the Center’s Forensic Medical Unit, to purchase equipment and hire staff to collect high-tech images of body injuries. The equipment, staff say, will be a game changer as it will help image and record wounds that may not be as easily detected.
“We know that with clients of color, darker skin tones, injuries don't often show the same way as someone who is lighter skinned,” said Ava Thomas, the Center’s operations manager. “We will be able to purchase a camera that allows us to use a negative inverted filter, which will help aid in the prosecution of these crimes, because it'll show and highlight what these injuries are.”
Also increasing, Thomas says, are the levels of lethal risk in domestic violent attacks. She explained a danger assessment scale, by which a score of 39 points ranks the highest for lethal risk. High scores used to be infrequent but now, according to Thomas, they’re consistently at least 30 points or higher.
Mary Travers Murphy, chief executive officer, says the images they will be able to map will help not only the victims but also those who go after their attackers. Access to body imaging, she explains, has already proven most successful in obtaining justice.
“We're told by the District Attorney's office, over the course of the last decade and a half when the forensic medical unit evidence has used the body mapping and the color pictures, we have a 100% conviction rate in court,” she said.
While domestic violence cases have escalated since the COVID pandemic, Murphy suggests one of the pandemic’s benefits has been the introduction of strategies and means to help victims protect themselves from attackers.
“We knew that it was going to accelerate. And it's certainly accelerated. What we didn't realize is that some of the victims were already in a part of the house away from the abuser, working or helping their kids virtually attend class. And that was the game changer,” Murphy said. “That and the courts overnight, able to hear petitions via the telephone. We've had clients in the bathroom with the shower on, getting their petition heard for the order of protection.”