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Jurors' Responses to Victims' Behavior and Legal Issues in Sexual Assault Trials

NCJ Number
Social Problems Volume: 32 Issue: 4 Dated: (April 1985) Pages: 389-407
G D Lafree; B F Reskin; C A Visher
Date Published
19 pages
Data from 360 jurors who served in rape trials formed the basis of an analysis of whether jurors' verdicts in sexual assault cases were influenced by victims' behavior and jurors' views about how women should behave.
The jurors had all served in the 38 forcible sexual assault trials held in Marion County, Ind., between July 1978 and September 1980. Data came from posttrial interviews, courtroom observations, and questionnaires completed by judges. Each case was classified according to the primary defense: (1) the victim consented, (2) no sex act occurred, (3) the defendant was mistaken about the identity of the assailant, or (4) the defendant's responsibility was mitigated by drug or alcohol use or insanity. The cases were then grouped into two categories: those in which the major issue was whether a sexual assault had occurred (consent and no sex cases) and those in which the occurrence of the assault was not disputed. In keeping with feminist views, in the consent and no sex cases, any evidence of victims' drinking, drug use, or sexual activity outside of marriage led jurors to doubt the defendant's guilt. However, measures of victims' sex role behavior had little effect on jurors' judgments in the identification and diminished responsibility cases. Moreover, measures of evidence did not affect jurors' reactions in the consent and no sex cases, but were major factors in the identification and responsibility cases. The feminist views of rape were thus most applicable to cases in which the defense disputed the occurrence of the sexual assault. In these cases, jurors were influenced by measures of the victim's sex role behavior but not by measures of evidence, thereby possibly supporting the allegation that it is the rape victims who are on trial. Further research on these issues is needed. Data tables, footnotes, and 56 references are supplied.