Police Surgeons and Victims of Rape: Cultures of Harm and Care

This article was published in a Special Issue of the journal Social History of Medicine in 2018 and explores the dual professional responsibilities of police surgeons. Between the late 1960s and the late 1980s, police surgeons found themselves under concerted attack for their treatment of victims of rape and sexual assault. In this piece Joanna Bourke explores the tensions they faced between the needs of victims and their legal responsibilities. Should they prioritise care or the collection of evidence? How did they respond to criticism and why were reforms inadequate? Bourke shows how institutional structures and ideologies help explain the longevity of cultures of harm within the sub-discipline of police doctors. She argues that in order to understand the tenacity of these practices, we need to interrogate more fundamental processes associated with bodily interactions, emotion and language.


Joanna Bourke
‘Police Surgeons and Victims of Rape: Cultures of Harm and Care’
Social History of Medicine, Volume 31, Issue 4 (November 2018), pp. 711–731

Published: 14 March 2018



Louise Hide’s essay:
‘In Plain Site: Open Doors, Mixed-sex Wards and Sexual Abuse in English Psychiatric Hospitals, 1950s-Early 1990s’.

Joanna Bourke and Louise Hide
‘Introduction’ to ‘Cultures of Harm in Institutions of Care’.