Covering Bodies at Autopsy
I see this a lot on television and it really cracks me up. The detective comes into the autopsy suite and the victim’s genitalia or breasts are either covered with a small cloth or obscured by a bright spotlight. I understand why producers can’t show nudity on the major networks in the United States but I wonder if authors believe we actually cover up dead people’s genitalia at autopsy. The short answer is no. Dead people can’t get embarrassed. Detectives, CSIs, and pathologists are used to seeing naked dead people too; much worse actually. You can’t really avoid it while investigating death. In fact, every autopsy should include an examination of the genitalia including photography. Primarily this is to check for injury or disease that may be related to the cause of death or associated with a crime. We also have to search these areas for evidence like DNA, hairs, and fibers. It may be counter-productive to place a towel over a woman’s breasts if you need to swab them for touch DNA.
I’ve talked previously about the problems associated with covering dead bodies at crime scenes. Sometimes a cop or firefighter will cover a body because they don’t want the body visible to the family or public. This is especially true with bodies discovered in public places. We don’t encourage it but if your body is in the driveway of a house in front of a school bus stop (this happened to me) then you generally cut the cops a little slack. But these concerns don’t exist at autopsy. In fact, one of the first things we do at autopsy is remove the victim’s clothing.
A lot of authors have asked me about the circumstances in which we will collect sexual assault evidence. The truth is we collect samples in many cases which may not seem necessary. Most of the time we do it just to cover our bases. You only get one chance to get the evidence and the time and effort is inexpensive compared to an exhumation. Think of a traffic accident involving a teenage girl. Why might you search for sex assault evidence in such a case? What if the reason for her erratic driving was because she had been raped at a party before the crash? What looks like a tragic accident may have much deeper implications. CSIs always have to consider the improbable if we ever hope to discover it.
So if you are writing an autopsy scene make sure you don’t cover the body. Detectives, pathologists, CSIs, and attorneys are all professionals and we see naked people all the time. It comes with the territory.
Posted on August 11, 2012, in The Autopsy and tagged autopsy, coroner, Crime Scene, csi, detective, Forensic science, forensics, medical examiner, murder, mystery, police, thriller, tom adair. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.