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Analysing Self-Inflicted Injury

Self-inflicted injury normally involves intentionally causing physical harm to oneself sometimes with and sometimes without the intention of ending one's life. This behaviour is often a manifestation of underlying emotional distress, evil intention, psychological disorders, or maladaptive ways of coping.

Self-inflicted injuries can take various forms, such as cutting, burning, scratching, hitting, shooting or biting oneself, and can result in tissue damage, scarring, or other physical consequences and even death. Individuals who engage in self-harm may do so as a means of managing overwhelming emotions, numbing emotional pain, or exerting control over their bodies and experiences.

However, self-harm is not always a suicidal act, although it may increase the risk of accidental death or complications if left untreated. Self-inflicted injury is often linked to mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, borderline personality disorder, or trauma-related disorders. It may serve as a maladaptive coping mechanism for managing intense emotional pain or trauma. Treatment for self-inflicted injury typically involves a combination of psychotherapy, medication, and support from mental health professionals to address underlying issues, develop healthier coping strategies, and promote recovery and well-being.

Self-inflicted injury may also occur for the purpose of falsely accusing an adversary or gaining advantage or payback. In these scenarios, individuals may deliberately inflict harm upon themselves and then assign the blame to another individual, often with the aim of gaining sympathy, initiating legal proceedings, or seeking revenge against the alleged wrongdoer.

This type of conduct is multi-faceted and may stem from various motivations, such as revenge, a need for attention, manipulation of interpersonal connections, or an effort to deflect culpability. It highlights the significance of thorough examination and evaluation of all elements in situations involving claims of harm or injury.

During one occurrence, it was noted that a security guard conspired with thieves to commit a burglary at the residence he was assigned to guard, deliberately inflicting injury upon himself. This connivance took place with the mutual agreement that the security guard would receive a portion of the stolen goods.

A separate event involved a watchman who committed theft of valuable possessions from the residence he was tasked with protecting. To hide his wrongdoing, he caused injury to himself and fabricated a story of being attacked by robbers who took the items.

Characteristics of Self-inflicted Injury:

The main characteristics of self-inflicted injuries can be summarized as follows:

  • The wounds may typically minor and do not pose a threat to life. These may include scratches or shallow incisions, often made with a knife, razor blade, or other pointed objects such as pins or nails.
  • The injuries consistently have a specific depth and direction, often appearing parallel. The uniformity of these wounds suggests that they are unlikely to be the result of a fight or scuffle, as the movements involved would not produce such consistent patterns.
  • Vital areas like the eyes, nose, and mouth are usually avoided. Instead, injuries are commonly found on the forehead, along the sides of the cheeks, and under the jaw line. Typically, areas like the eyebrows, nose, lips, and ears are spared. Superficial, parallel, and minor injuries can also be found on the hands.
  • Injuries to the chest and abdomen also demonstrate parallel patterns and consistent depth.
  • The distribution of injuries often corresponds with handedness; for example, right-handed individuals tend to have more wounds on their left side, and vice versa. In cases where hand injuries are involved, the non-dominant hand is typically more affected, as the dominant hand is usually used to manipulate the object causing the injury.
  • Special attention should be paid to clothing in areas that are normally covered, as fabricators may neglect to properly damage the clothing overlying the wounds or may make alterations in the wrong direction, resulting in inconsistencies when overlaid.
  • Self-inflicted injury can involve cutting, burning, hitting, or other forms of self-injury.
  • It is often associated with underlying emotional anguish, such as feelings of inadequacy, despair, or emotional detachment.
  • Individuals may engage in self-harm as a means of dealing with overwhelming emotions or gaining a sense of control.
  • Many individuals who self-harm may experience emotions of guilt, shame, or humiliation, leading to a desire to keep their actions hidden.
  • Self-harm can be linked to mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, borderline personality disorder, or trauma-related conditions.
  • There is a risk of infection, scarring, or accidental severe harm associated with self-inflicted injuries.
  • Fabricated self-inflicted wounds are not uncommon and require thorough examination, especially in more subtle cases. However, experienced professionals can often readily identify them upon initial inspection.
  • Self-inflicted injury may also be suicidal. In one case it was observed that a prisoner who was sentenced to death in a case and was imprisoned in a jail in West Bengal, on rejection of his appeal for relief on the grounds of mental illness, cut his stomach with a blade leading to severe bleeding and serious injuries and subsequently succumbed to the injuries while undergoing medical treatment in the hospital. Some cases of attempt to suicide by slashing the wrist or setting themselves on fire resulting in burn injuries have also been reported.

Determining the circumstances and accountability in police investigations heavily relies on the medico-legal assessment of self-inflicted wounds. This assessment follows a multidisciplinary approach, involving experts from forensic medicine, psychology, and law enforcement.

Initially, forensic medical professionals analyse the injuries, taking into account factors like location, pattern, depth, and consistency with the individual's version of events. Additionally, any potential underlying mental health issues or psychosocial stressors are considered. Subsequently, psychological evaluations are conducted to determine the individual's mental state, including their ability to make rational decisions and their susceptibility to coercion or manipulation.

This aids in establishing whether the self-inflicted wounds were truly voluntary or influenced by external factors. Finally, collaboration between medical examiners and law enforcement officials is crucial for collecting corroborating evidence, such as witness statements, forensic analysis of the crime scene, and any pertinent medical records or previous incidents of self-harm.

Overall, meticulous attention to detail, understanding of psychological dynamics, and adherence to ethical standards are necessary for ensuring the integrity of the investigative process and promoting justice for all parties involved in the medico-legal assessment of self-inflicted wounds in police investigations.

Written By: Md.Imran Wahab, IPS, IGP, Provisioning, West Bengal
Email: [email protected], Ph no: 9836576565

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