Sexual violence, medicine and psychiatry


  • Prof Joanna Bourke

    Birkbeck, University of London

Project summary

Medical professionals play a central role in examining, treating and counselling victims of sexual violence. They can also determine whether or not the police take the assault seriously and whether legal proceedings should be instigated. Physicians also play significant roles in determining whether an accused person is subsequently convicted, punished or treated. 

This research focuses on the UK, USA, Australia and New Zealand from the first decade of the 19th century to the present. It will investigate the role of medicine and psychiatry in understanding, interpreting, treating, prosecuting and preventing sexual violence. There will be four research streams: medicine and law; GPs, police surgeons and forensic medical examiners; clinical texts from Psychopathia Sexualis to the DSM/ICD; and psychiatric aftermaths. There will also be a focus on child sexual abuse. 

The project will be a powerful example of how historical scholarship can inform contemporary crises and debates.