Jurors fail to understand rape victims

June 25, 2009

Rape trial juries need better guidance in the courtroom -- and a better understanding of rape victims -- to help them reach their verdict.

Professor Vanessa Munro of The University of Nottingham and Dr Louise Ellison of the University of Leeds found jurors have a poor understanding of the various ways in which women might react when raped, the levels and types of injuries they might sustain and the different behaviours they might display in the witness box.

The researchers, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, set up mock court cases to examine how jurors reacted to different pieces of evidence and how these were then discussed in the jury room.

In particular, they found that many jurors expect rape victims to:

  • Fight back against their attacker;
  • Sustain serious physical injuries;
  • Report the offence immediately;
  • Appear tearful and distressed when recounting their experiences in court.
In reality, many rape victims offer no physical resistance, many suffer no injury, many delay reporting rapes for significant periods and many react to rape by exhibiting extreme calm — often as a strategy to help them cope. The research shows that each of these reactions, in challenging the assumptions of jurors, can work against rape complainants when they appear in court — and may be one factor which contributes to the low conviction rate of 6.5 per cent in reported rape cases.

The researchers also examined whether educational guidance given to jurors about these issues by a judge or expert witness would lead to a fairer, less prejudicial assessment of complainant credibility in rape cases. They found jurors who received this guidance were more likely to accept that a woman who had been raped might delay reporting the incident to police, and may appear calm and controlled under cross-examination.

Even so, jurors who received this guidance still expected complainants of rape to have resisted strenuously and be injured as a result.

Professor Munro said: "The research shows that misconceptions about 'normal' responses to rape influence jurors' assessments of credibility — and this is a barrier to securing justice for the victim. Further work needs to be done to identify the most appropriate mechanisms by which to introduce this education. Care will be needed to ensure that the guidance is measured in tone, and avoids any suggestion of unfair prejudice to the accused, but we are optimistic that this can be achieved."

Dr Ellison said: "There is a clear need for educational guidance in rape cases. Defence lawyers often seize upon any delay or lack of resistance to undermine the credibility of a rape complainant in court. Jurors need to be fully informed about the wide range of reactions and emotional responses rape can inspire."

The research "Complainant Credibility & General Expert Witness Testimony in Rape Trials: Exploring and Influencing Mock Juror Perceptions" follows proposals published in 2006 by the Office for Criminal Justice Reform to allow prosecutors in rape cases to use general expert evidence to educate jurors about the impact of rape and the complex, disparate reactions of victims during and post-assault. The fate of these proposals is still being debated, although the Solicitor-General has recently announced plans to develop draft judicial directions that can also be used for this educative purpose in cases. Because it is unlawful to conduct research with real juries, the researchers used trial and jury room simulations to explore public understanding of common reactions to sexual victimisation.

Source: University of Nottingham (news : web)

Explore further: Framing technique can be used as a public relations strategy in cases of sexual assault

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2 / 5 (1) Jun 25, 2009
It apparently never occurs to Dr. Ellison that jurors might be having to consider factors such as that such research as has been allowed over the complaints by feminists in western societies indicates that about 40% of primary rape accusations are either patently false, never mind how many successfully prosecuted rape charges amount to the "victim" having decided after having participated in sex with her "attacker" that what occurred was really rape. With feminist extremists having broadcast the notion that all sex IS rape for decades, can we really not understand why jurors have trouble trying rape as a crime?
not rated yet Jul 02, 2009
As well, vanderMerwe, I don't think it is occurring to these people that the courts are to determine the guilt or innocence of the accused. The jury is to determine if the evidence supports the charge.

The mental or emotional state of the accuser should have no bearing on the facts of the case.

Once again, why do we treating rape and DV, so much different than any other crimes?
not rated yet Aug 16, 2009
I was drugged/raped by an acquaintance. When I gained consciousness, I was tied up, I tried fighting until he threatened my life.

I went to the local police station and was turned away - I was told they didn't take reports there. I was given a phone number to call where the detective advised me that I'd be opening myself up to a libel suit.

I attempted to pursue it criminally with no interest from the local police (because I had been on 2 public dates with him a year before and he had lured me to his home to give advice on his kitchen remodeling even though I had been in an exclusive relationship for 8 months). I ended up taking civil action against him where he blatantly lied and contradicted himself in deposition.

And then a week before going to trial, he filed bankruptcy - and although no judgment had been granted, a Federal judge erases it all.

I will never have an opportunity to even have my day in court. I wasn't pursuing things to have him 'punished' because there was nothing that could be done to him to make me better - I just knew I had to do everything in my power to leave a paper trail as to when he did it again.

And he will.

The problem isn't with just juries. It's much deeper than that.

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