The Real-Life Wendy From 'Mindhunter' Is A True Pioneer

Patrick Harbron/Netflix

The new Netflix series Mindhunter tells a fictionalized account of the real life FBI agents Robert Ressler and John Douglas, who were pioneers in the area of criminal profiling, especially of serial killers (a term they coined). But these two weren't the only ones who made profound contributions to the field of criminal behavioral analysis. The character of Wendy Carr in Mindhunter is based on a real person: Dr. Ann Wolbert Burgess, per Screenrant, a pioneer in the field of forensic nursing.

Per her Boston College bio, Dr. Burgess began her career in the 1970s at Boston City Hospital, where she "co-founded one of the first hospital-based crisis counseling programs for rape victims." Her research with Boston College sociologist Lynda Lytle Holmstrom led to the coining and definition of Rape Trauma Syndrome, which explores the idea that most rape victims experience a similar set of reactions to the trauma.

It was this pioneering work that caught the attention of the FBI, who was at that time in the process of developing their profiling unit, which included the work of Ressler and Douglas. An invaluable addition to the team, Burgess (Wendy in the Netflix adaptation) helped the agents link sex crimes and sexual motivations to serial killers. Her research also uncovered the link between victims and later perpetrators, as she examined how sexual predators and rapists often have been the victims of sexual abuse in their past.

This work is particularly significant as it relates to the serial killers studied by Ressler and Douglas. Convicted murderers such as Jeffrey Dahmer and John Wayne Gacy didn't just kill; there was also a highly sexual component to their crimes. It's been reported that Gacy would often rape victims before killing them and Dahmer sometimes did so even after killing them. Dr. Burgess was able to help the FBI uncover the ways in which sexual motivations factored into the psyche of these killers.

But perhaps more moving is Burgess' work teaching nurses and other medical staff how to better assist survivors of assault and elderly patients. In an article by the Connell School of Nursing at Boston College that celebrates Burgess as the recipient of American Academy of Nursing's Living Legend Award, it's noted, "Now internationally recognized as a pioneer in the assessment and treatment of victims of trauma and abuse, Burgess continues her study of elder abuse in nursing homes, cyberstalking, and Internet sex crimes."

And it is through the particular lens of nursing that Burgess has focused her work. As the same Connell School of Nursing profile states:

It is the particular vantage point of the nurse, who is the steady presence in clinical settings and often in the best position to notice telltale behaviors of trauma victims, that has put nursing at the vanguard of contemporary trauma treatment.

As nursing is a profession historically dominated by women, this places women at the center of significant and necessary work in the field of trauma studies. This is an especially impressive when one considers that Burgess was working for the FBI in the 1970s, not exactly the most comfortable time to be a woman in the workplace.

The addition of the character of Wendy to the Mindhunter team is essential, as it demonstrates to audiences that it wasn't only men at the forefront of behavioral analysis research. And, especially when it comes to issues of sexual assault, which affects women at higher rates than men (one in five women will be raped over the course of their lifetime, as contrasted with one in 71 men), the character of Wendy and the real life Burgess prove that it is women who are leading the charge, seeking to aid survivors, and hoping to prevent these crimes from occurring in the first place.