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Sexual Assault Case Outcomes: Disentangling the Overlapping Decisions of Police and Prosecutors

NCJ Number
Justice Quarterly Volume: Online First Dated: 2018
Cassia Spohn; Katherine Tellis
Date Published
February 2018
43 pages

This study analyzed police and prosecutorial decisionmaking in sexual assault cases, using data on sexual assaults reported to the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles County sheriff's Department in 2008.


This study examined the effects of victim characteristics, indicators of case seriousness, and measures of evidentiary strength on the decision to arrest and the decision to charge in sexual assault cases. The study stems from researchers' belief that police decisions and prosecutorial decisions cannot be examined in isolation from one another. The intent of this study is to determine how these overlapping decisions contribute to high rates of attrition in sexual assault cases. The findings of this study confirm what research conducted 30 or 40 years ago determined about the response of the criminal justice system to reported sexual assault. Although legally relevant indicators of crime seriousness and evidentiary strength predicted whether the suspect would be arrested and charged, legally irrelevant victim characteristics also affected police and prosecutorial decisions. Police and prosecutors continue to make investigative and prosecutorial decisions based in part on their assessment of the alleged victim's character, reputation, and behavior at the time of the incident, and motivation for reporting the alleged offense. This suggests that stereotypes of "real" rapes and genuine victims have endured and continue to adversely affect the likelihood of arrest and successful prosecution of those who commit sexual assault. 40 references