Pauline Saint-Martin, a forensic pathologist on the trail of human violence

“A victim’s skin is a book. » That Tuesday, in Tours, the forensic doctor Pauline Saint-Martin tells it. The marks left by the violence. Their reading by the lawyer. A medicine for the dead, but especially for the living: “Autopsies represent less than 10% of our activitypresents the head of service of the medico-legal institute (IML) of the University Hospital of Tours, pivotal center in the Centre-Val de Loire region. We mainly examine living victims of violence, sometimes twenty a day when we are configured for eight. »

In 2020, the IML received 3,500 (20% more than in 2019), including 400 for sexual violence, 500 for domestic violence (non-sexual) and 1,000 minors, most of them on judicial requisition after a filing complaint. With her frank remarks, anchored in reality, Pauline Saint-Martin captivates her audience: these police officers, gendarmes, social workers and associative employees are trained on sexual violence within the framework of the departmental protocol for the prevention and fight against violence against women. women (prefecture of Indre-et-Loire). For the specialist, this is an opportunity to transmit a key message: the people collecting the confidences must quickly direct the victims to the medico-judicial units (UMJ), the consultation service of the forensic institute.

“Bruises fade in a few days on a beaten child, in two to three weeks on an adult”

Because time is running out. On the book-skin, the words are ephemeral: “Bruises fade in a few days on a beaten child, in two to three weeks on an adult. In the event of a violation, samples for DNA and toxic research must be taken within five days. » The professor of forensic medicine scans every square centimeter in search of a lesion. The abrasion of the blade of a knife on the neck. Compression marks on the buttocks. “Benign lesions sometimes testify to serious facts, such as traces of strangulation. »

Bring discipline

But not all territories have a UMJ. In the Centre-Val de Loire region, after opening in mid-October in Bourges (Cher), three departments remain without it. So it’s not a forensic scientist who finds the lesions, but an untrained doctor. In cases of serious violence, Pauline Saint-Martin commonly deplores the absence of solid findings. “When the lesions disappear, it becomes impossible to interpret them. These elements are lost forever”, regrets the one who attends ten to fifteen times by the courts of assizes. Expert at the Orléans Court of Appeal, since 2020 she has been an expert approved by the Court of Cassation, where she issues opinions on complex cases.

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