By Moravia de la O and Michaela Machicote
Sameena Mulla is Assistant Professor of Anthropology in the Department of Social and Cultural Sciences at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She received her Ph.D. in Anthropology from Johns Hopkins University where one of her dissertation advisors was Veena Das. Her dissertation was titled The Institutionalization of Suffering: Time and Technique in the Medicolegal Sexual Assault Examination in Baltimore, MD and it forms the basis for The Violence of Care.
Mulla’s research focuses on sexual violence; institutions; law and the State; expert knowledge; race, gender, and the body; visual anthropology; medical technology; anthropology and philosophy; legal subjectivity; and the urban U.S.
You can listen to a short radio interview with Sameena Mulla about The Violence of Care here: http://wypr.org/post/understanding-violence-care
In The Violence of Care, Sameena Mulla uses an ethnographic approach to analyze the ways in which the medical and legal spheres interact during sexual assault forensic examinations and the impacts these interventions have on sexual assault victims. Mulla provides a critical analysis of these interventions based on four years of participatory research as a rape crisis advocate and extensive interviews with forensic nurses, sexual assault victims, rape crisis advocates, activists, law enforcement officials, and lawyers. Throughout, Mulla demonstrates how the specific form of care that results from the interaction of legal and therapeutic practices inflicts a particular violence upon sexual assault victims, framing the ways in which they understand their own experiences.
Mulla provides extensive analysis of the tensions that arise during sexual assault forensic examinations--highlighting the ways in which care for the victim becomes secondary to legal priorities, especially DNA evidence collection. Mulla highlights several key tensions including:
●The importance given to DNA samples and the urgency with which it must be collected overrides concerns for the victims’ physical comfort and emotional well-being.
●Medicolegal timelines established through the forensic examination do not always line up with victim’s notions of the time frame for the sexual assault.
●Foregoing the emotionally sensitive nature of sexual assault forensic examinations in favor of juridical criteria that seeks to establish the “truth” makes victims feel unsupported and, at times, distrusted by the forensic nurses.
●The legal framing of the victim and the specific emphasis on consent does not take into consideration the expansiveness of victims’ lives and contexts.
●Visual technology can lead to the fragmentation and objectification of the victim’s body.
●Forensic documentation as the intersection of legal protocols and medical techniques and how it can “reflect or erase the lived realities of sexual assault victims and their families while reproducing rape myths in the daily functions of the institutions themselves” (152).
●Institutional notions of the home as a safe space contrast with the reality of the home as the site of sexual violence in many cases.
●The “ideal” assault victim clashes with the reality of victims that may have drug addictions, a history of crime, and/or mental disorders.
1.How does an understanding of biopolitics and the ineffability of pain help us understand the impacts of forensic examinations on sexual assault victims?
2.What does it mean for the body to be the scene of the crime? (178)
3.How can we understand the geographies of “rape-able” bodies? In what ways are they constructed?
4.How did you understand the analysis of gender, race, and class in this text?
5.Does Mulla manage to write about sexual violence without creating “museums of suffering”? If not, why?