A project’s summary and final publications
Physical and or/sexualized violence can affect anybody. But injuries heal. This fact presents specific challenges in the preservation of forensic evidence in cases of survived mistreatment and abuse:
A nine year-old boy complains about backache, he tells that he has been beaten by his mother with a broomstick. The child is examined by a clinical forensic expert. The visible injuries are documented, analysed and summarized in a clinical forensic examination report.
Injuries documenting mistreatment and abuse are only visible for a limited time, and in cases of criminal prosecution, these injuries have often disappeared by the time an indictment is brought against the suspect. The same argumentation holds for trace evidence in cases of sexual assault, child abuse and child maltreatment. This deficiency can be remedied by timely, low-threshold clinical forensic examinations, which are available to victims of mistreatment and abuse, regardless of whether they pursue charges. Availability of local services offering injury diagnosis, photographic documentation and preservation of evidence, grants surviving victims of mistreatment and abuse better legal protection and strengthens their position in court proceedings. It also serves the ultimate objective of truth finding and generally improves the certainty of the law. The establishment and organisation of a comprehensive, low-threshold clinical forensic service strongly depends, in my opinion, on a number of legal and structural criteria. From a legal perspective, criminal procedure law governing physical examinations as well as the disclosure and reporting obligations of medical personnel need to be carefully taken into consideration. From a structural perspective, a comprehensive, low-threshold clinical forensic service requires the availability of clinical forensic expertise and a dedicated, ideally around the clock, on-call service. A significant, additional consideration for streamlined, regionally accessible, timely clinical forensic examinations is the targeted cooperation between occupational groups and institutions, such as police, prosecution, judiciary, child and victim protective services as well as representatives from the medical and nursing professions. These professionals often come into close contact with victims of abuse, meaning their involvement is key in harmonising and streamlining practical examination procedures.
These thoughts were the starting point for the transnational project JUSTeU! (JUridical STandards for clinical forensic examinations of victims of violence in EUrope), which was drafted by the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Clinical Forensic Imaging in Graz/Austria and submitted by an international partnerconsortium (See Chapter 2) under the Daphne Call of the Justice Programme of the European Commission in April 2016. After its approval in November 2016, its term lasted from Febuary 2017 till January 2019.
The main objectives of the JUSTeU! Project were
- to disseminate the fundamental importance of clinical forensic services to a broad, transnational – public;
- to collect and analyse the legal requirements for clinical forensic examinations regarding their victim protection capabilities;
- to collect and analyse information on existing clinical forensic services and their practical benefits for victim protection;
- to develop a European minimum standard for clinical forensic examinations aimed at practitioners;
- to highlight the need for low-threshold access for victims of violence to clinical forensic examinations; and
- to set up a transnational clinical-forensic network called “Clinical Forensic Network Europe” to provide the opportunity for transnational exchange of good practices between all relevant stakeholders.
The project activities included on the one hand dissemination and awareness-raising activities: A project website www.justeu.org was set up to inform about the project itself and upcoming events (kick-off meeting, national symposia, internation workshop). Dissemination events and advertising activities were conducted and scientific publications of the projects’ results were written. One the other hand, analytical activities consisting of data collection of legal regulations for doctors and data on clinical forensic services currently offered, as well as the evaluation of these data sets have been completed. In the JUSTeU! international workshop (11th-12th June 2018) the partners provided experience reports concerning clinical forensic services in their region, victim support in forensic medicine, and opinions regarding the legal aspects of such services. Finally, the partners created a compilation of the results, including a common standard for clinical forensic examinations.
As for results, one has to mention that all dissemination events combined reached about 400 persons and the projects’ website as well as flyers, stickers and buttons (3500) were/are raising awareness and are informing a broad public about the need of improved access to clinical forensic services for victims of violence. Further, all project partners recruited interested partners for a future “Clinical Forensic Network Europe”. Secondly, two questionnaires were put together to gather information and to summarise the legal regulations for doctors when dealing with cases of suspected physical violence as well as to gain an overview of existing clinical forensic examination services in several member states. After the data collection, an evaluation was given at the international workshop and in form of scientific publications. And finally, based on intense discussions between forensic experts during the international workshop, minimum standards for clinical forensic examinations aimed at practitioners and statutes for a transnational and interdisciplinary network called “Clinical Forensic Network Europe” were drafted.
The primary beneficiaries of the JUSTeU! Project, were/are victims of violence: Information about clinical forensic services and contact details of all project partners are available on the JUSTeU! website. This access to information about clinical forensic service is expected to further the establishment of a “Clinical Forensic Network Europe”. Also, minimum standards on the documentation of a clinical forensic examination were drafted and can be used as guidelines by every medical staff to properly secure evidential findings on a victims’ body for possible future (civil and/or criminal) proceedings. Thirdly, the national symposia and the JUSTeU! international workshop gave the opportunity to different stakeholders within victim protection (police, forensic doctors, public prosecutors, social workers, etc) to meet and exchange thoughts and viewpoints. Hence, a future CFN Europe aims to further strengthen interdisciplinary cooperation.
Department of Medical and Surgical Specialties, Radiological Sciences and Public Health - Università degli Studi di Brescia, Brescia (Italy)