Dateline: August, 2007, Issue 2

How impartial are jurors in sex abuse cases?

Jurors often have strong attitudes about sex, abuse, and the protection of children that affect their ability to be fair and impartial in sex abuse trials.

In 1997, Vidmar observed 849 prospective jurors in 25 Canadian criminal trials involving charges of sexual abuse, noting the percent of jurors self-reporting the inability to be fair and impartial in these types of cases. Jurors were asked under oath whether they could hear the evidence, follow the judge's instructions on the law, and decide the case with a fair and impartial mind.

Knowing only the nature of the charges against the accused, on average 36% of the jurors stated that they could not be impartial. Some jurors explained that they had been victims of abuse, others expressed fears for children, while others stated simply that they could not set aside a presumption of guilt.

The researcher notes that these findings from actual trials are consistent with a large body of social science literature on attitudes toward sexual abuse and sexual assault charges.

Source Vidmar, N. (1997). Generic prejudice and the presumption of guilt in sex abuse trials. Law and Human Behavior, 21, pp. 5-25.