This paper presents findings from two recent studies conducted by the Australian Institute of Criminology showing that juror judgments in rape trials are influenced more by the attitudes, beliefs and biases about rape which jurors bring with them into the courtroom than by objective facts presented.
It is time to acknowledge that jurors do not (because they cannot) make objective judgments about consent and guilt based on the facts presented to them in court. Jurors actively interpret what they see and hear, based on their own knowledge, experiences, attitudes, biases and expectations. Identifying these beliefs and expectations and understanding how they impact on judgments relating to credibility and guilt is essential to understanding some of the barriers to successful prosecution and how prosecution rates might be improved in the future. It is particularly crucial in light of the fact that most sexual assaults occur in private, with no corroborating evidence, and involve one person’s word against the other. Research is needed to investigate the link between preexisting juror attitudes and judgments about credibility and guilt in the courtroom. Sexual assault has among the highest rates of acquittal and lowest rates of proven guilt compared with other offenses. Given that more than 70 percent of sexual assault incidents are not reported to police and only about 1 in 10 reported incidents result in a guilty finding, increasing conviction rates for sexual assault is a key issue for the Australian Criminal Justice System. This paper draws on two studies conducted to illustrate that juror judgments in sexual assault/rape trials are influenced more by the attitudes, beliefs, and biases about rape which jurors bring to the courtroom than by the objective facts presented, and that stereotypical beliefs about rape and victims of it still exist within the community. Figures, table, and references
Australian Institute of Criminology
GPO Box 2944, Canberra ACT, 2601 Australia, Australia
AIC Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice, No. 344, August 2007; downloaded on January 23, 2008.