chapter  5
18 Pages

Making the colposcope ‘forensic’: the medico-legal management of a controversial visualisation device


The presence of injury upon the body of a rape assault survivor has been demonstrated as a strong predictor of successful criminal prosecution (Du Mont and White 2007). Forensic practitioners, either doctors (known as Forensic Medical Examiners (FMEs)) or nurses (Forensic Nurse Examiners (FNEs)), spend the majority of the forensic intervention that follows the reporting of a rape assault observing the body and recording anything that they determine constitutes abnormal phenomena (Rees 2011). This observation and recording process is separated into genital and non-genital examinations, and while injuries are often not difficult to observe macroscopically upon non-genital areas, the same cannot be said for the ano-genital region. Consequently, since the 1990s, a gynaecological technology known as the colposcope has been recommended for use within forensic medical examinations (Slaughter and Brown 1992). The colposcope, initially designed to investigate the cervix and tissues of the vagina and the vulva following the return of an irregular pap smear, is a type of microscope that can magnify the genital (and anal) areas up to 30 times (Rogers 2004). It comes complete with a light for illumination and a camera for recording the examination. According to those promoting the use of the colposcope within forensic medical examinations, magnification and illumination is likely to increase the probability of observing signs of genital injury; meanwhile, the camera enables improved contemporaneous recording of the examination, producing better evidence for criminal justice as well as medico-legal research (Brennan 2006). However, not all forensic practitioners are convinced that this device is useful or appropriate, and some challenge its incorporation on both victim-centric and scientific grounds.