Sameena Mulla speaks on the violence of care

Sameena Mulla, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Marquette University, visited Wheaton to talk about her book, “The Violence of Care: Rape Victims, Forensic Nurses and Sexual Assault Intervention.”

Mulla’s book was published in 2014 and received an Honorable Mention for the 2015 Eileen Basker Memorial Prize, presented by the Society for Medical Anthropology. The April 18 visit was made possible by the Wheaton Institute for Interdisciplinary Humanities.

Research for this book began as Mulla, a trained rape crisis advocate, wanted to learn more about sexual assault forensic examinations through both legal and medical lenses. She became interested in this post-rape care research after hearing stories of sexual assault from friends and family.

Mulla’s research was conducted for four years in emergency rooms in Baltimore, a city with high population density and crime rates. The population of Baltimore is 60% African American, who are over-represented in all patient populations. Mulla also felt that this issue was not being discussed openly as everything was ‘coded.’

Most of the book is focused on sexual assault nurse examiners and their interactions with sexual assault victims, in terms of power dynamics and collection of evidence. Mulla spoke about treating the patient, whether male or female, as a ‘victim’ who automatically becomes the most feminized person in interactions with nurses and police officers.

During a question and answer session with students, Mulla also spoke about how sexual assault cases are handled in colleges. The victim is often told to find ‘evidence’ before anything else as the police want to see that demonstrated commitment.

She said that this was an incorrect way to handle it as forensic analysis of hair, fingerprints and ballistics is still ‘science fiction.’ She emphasized that one can get treatment and referrals without a sexual assault investigation.

Mulla’s advice to students who had friends or loved ones tell them about their own assault experiences was to affirm the experience and reflect their emotions and story.

She used this advice in the emergency room with victims of sexual assault.  “Interactions are so structured with police and nurses. I didn’t want to be the anthropologist but just tell their story,” she said.