“Reforms aim to dispel rape myths and increase convictions”

no2rapeThe UK Government has finally published details of proposed reforms to the criminal justice system, in a bid do something to increase the appalling 6% conviction rate for rape. I can’t find a link to the official Government announcement, but the Guardian (29 Nov) is one of many news media to report the details, which include informing jurors of the range of responses that victims may have to rape:

Juries are to be told how rape victims typically respond in an attempt to dispel “rape myths” which ministers believe are contributing to plummeting conviction rates for the crime. A panel of judges, doctors and academics will start work next month on the project, which will attempt to put together a package to inform the jury without interfering with the fairness of a trial.

… Ministers initially proposed allowing expert witnesses to give evidence to the jury on how rape victims behave. But that idea, which circuit judges described as a “minefield”, has been shelved. The panel is expected to recommend an information booklet, a video or directions from the judge. A proposal for a statutory definition of “capacity to consent” – to deal with situations where a woman was so drunk it was questionable whether she had the power to say yes or no – has also been scrapped.

There is plenty of research on rape myths and a fair amount on jurors’ decision making in rape and sexual assault trials (see below the fold). And the issue of ‘capacity to consent’ has received recent attention: research sponsored by the Economic and Social Research Centre and completed last year by UK researchers Dr Emily Finch and Dr Vanessa Munro suggests that juries are ‘unsympathetic’ to women who make allegations of rape following a period of heavy drinking : Finch and Munro “found that jurors often took the view that it was ‘reasonable’ for a man to assume that silence represented sexual consent, even if the silence was due to the fact that the woman was totally intoxicated”.

So efforts to address jurors’ stereotypes about rape and rape victims are welcome. But as the Fawcett Society points out, attrition in rape cases starts early. The vast majority of allegations of rape don’t even get as far as the courtroom. The UK Home Office published an excellent report earlier this year, in which the authors examined patterns of attrition in rape cases (Feist et al., 2007). They found that nearly 70% of cases were lost between the victims’ allegation being recorded and a suspect being charged, with the main reasons being the victim withdrawing her* complaint, perhaps because she lost confidence in the police investigation, and the police failing to find enough evidence to charge a suspect. Rape is a difficult crime to investigate, but the Feist et al. findings indicated variation in attrition rates across police forces, suggesting that local practices might in part contribute to the failure to bring rapists to justice. Reforms need to address the care of victims of rape and the investigation of sexual assault cases if real progress is to be made in increasing our pitiful conviction rapes.

* the Feist et al. research only covered investigations of allegations of rape of females


Further references on rape myths and jury decision making below the fold.

Photo credit: steenface!, Creative Commons License

Further references on criminal justice system decision making in cases of rape:

  • Brown, J. M., Hamilton, C., & O’Neill, D. (2007). Characteristics associated with rape attrition and the role played by scepticism or legal rationality by investigators and prosecutors. Psychology Crime and Law, 13(4), 355-371.
  • Burt, M. R. (1980). Cultural Myths and Supports for Rape. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 38(2), 217-230.
  • Deitz, S. R., & Byrnes, L. E. (1981). Attribution of responsibility for sexual assault: The influence of observer empathy and defendant occupation and attractiveness. Journal of Psychology: Interdisciplinary and Applied, 108, 17-29.
  • DuMont, J., Miller, K. L., & Myhr, T. L. (2003). The role of “real rape” and “real victim” stereotypes in the police reporting practices of sexually assaulted women. Violence against Women, 9(4), 466-486.
  • Erian, M., Lin, C., Patel, N., Neal, A., & Geiselman, R. E. (1998). Juror verdicts as a function of victim and defendant attractiveness in sexual assault cases. American Journal of Forensic Psychology, 16, 25-40.
  • Finch, E., & Munro, V. E. (2005). Juror Stereotypes and Blame Attribution in Rape Cases Involving Intoxicants: The Findings of a Pilot Study. British Journal of Criminology, 45, 25-38.
  • Fradella, H. F., & Brown, K. (2007). The effects of using social scientific rape typologies on juror decisions to convict. Law & Psychology Review, 31, 1-19.
  • Frazier, P., & Borgida, E. (1988). Juror common understanding and the admissibility of rape trauma syndrome evidence in court. Law and Human Behavior, 12, 101-122.
  • Frese, B., Moya, M., & Megias, J. L. (2004). Social perception of rape: how rape myth acceptance modulates the influence of situational factors. J Interpers Violence, 19(2), 143-161.
  • Gray, J.M. (2006). Rape myth beliefs and prejudiced instructions: Effects on decisions of guilt in a case of date rape. Legal and Criminological Psychology. 11(1) 75-80
  • Gregory, J., & Lees, S. (1996). Attrition in Rape and Sexual Assault Cases. British Journal of Criminology, 36(1), 1-17.
  • HMIC/HMCPSI. (2007). Without Consent: A report on the joint review of the investigation and prosecution of rape offences: Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate.
  • Jordan, J. (2004a). Beyond Belief? Police, Rape and Women’s Credibility. Criminal Justice, 4(1), 29-29.
  • Jordan, J. (2004b). The Word of a Woman?: Police, Rape, and Belief: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Kelly, L. (2001). Routes to (in)justice: a research review on the reporting, investigation and prosecution of rape cases.Unpublished manuscript.
  • Kelly, L., Lovett, J., & Regan, L. (2005a). A gap or a chasm? Attrition in reported rape cases. In Home Office (Ed.) (pp. 136): Home Office Research, Development and Statistics Directorate.
  • Kelly, L., Lovett, J., & Regan, L. (2005b). Gap or a Chasm?: Attrition in Reported Rape Cases.
  • Lea, S. J., Lanvers, U., & Shaw, S. (2003). Attrition in rape cases: Developing a profile and identifying relevant factors. British Journal of Criminology, 43, 583-599.
  • Lees, S. (1996). Carnal knowledge: Rape on trial. London: Hamish Hamilton.
  • Lievore, D. (2003). Non-reporting and Hidden Recording of Sexual Assault: An International Literature Review: Australian Institute of Criminology,.
  • Olsen-Fulero, L., & Fulero, S. M. (1997). Commonsense rape judgments: An empathy-complexity theory of rape juror story making. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 3, 402-427.
  • Schuller, R. A., & Hastings, P. A. (2002). Complainant sexual history evidence: Its impact on mock juror’s decisions. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 26, 252-261.
  • Soulliere, D. M. (2005). Pathways to Attrition: A Qualitative Comparative Analysis of Justifications for Police Designations of Sexual Assault Complaints. The Qualitative Report, 10(3), 416-438.
  • Villemur, N. K., & Hyde, J. S. (1983). Effects of sex of defense attorney, sex of juror, and age and attractiveness of the victim on mock juror decision making in a rape case. Sex Roles, 9, 879-889.
  • Weir, J. A., & Wrightsman, L. S. (1990). The determinants of mock jurors’ verdicts in a rape case. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 20, 901-919.