Medicine and Law

What role does the law play in the way medical and psychiatric aspects of sexual violence are defined, assessed, and judged? Legal texts instruct medical students and practitioners how to present evidence in formal legal settings, as well as how to examine victims.

This Research Theme explores and explains shifts in the relationship between law, medicine, and sexual violence from the early 1800s, when medical jurisprudence became an elective course in medical schools, to the present. Medical jurisprudence texts claim to provide objective knowledge about science in relation to legal questions. They instruct medical students and practitioners on how to examine, assess, and adjudicate on complaints of sexual violence for use within legal settings. Key jurisprudence texts have been influential in formulating, propagating, and sometimes debunking many of the most prominent ‘rape myths’.

This theme is curious about changes in the legal education provided in medical schools about sexual violence, including the weighting given to such courses and their content. It analyses: the ways in which differences in legal structures affect the medical management of rape complainants; the impact of the increasingly adversarial relationship between physicians and jurists on rape trials; and the ‘construction of norms’ with regards to the bodies of both alleged victims and their assailants. Today, when only a tiny proportion of rapes reported to the police ever end in a conviction, an understanding of the history of medico-legal interactions is more urgent than ever.