Dateline: November, 2021, Issue 3

What rape myths shape verdicts in sexual assault cases?

Jurors often hold false beliefs about both rape and rape victims. These false beliefs, called rape myths, shape attributions of blame and jury verdicts in rape cases.

The Updated Illinois Rape Myth Acceptance Scale by McMahon and Farmer (2011) examines false beliefs concerning the rape of women, and describes four types of rape myths:

Leverick (2020) explored the role that rape myth acceptance plays in jurors' evaluation of evidence and decision-making in rape cases by reviewing both quantitative and qualitative research studies. Attitudes toward rape and rape victims held by mock jurors in the abstract predicted the extent to which a particular victim and/or perpetrator is thought to be responsible or at fault in a specific rape case in 28 of 29 quantitative research studies testing this relationship. In 28 quantitative research studies testing whether rape myth acceptance affects juror verdicts, all but 3 found a significant relationship between rape myth acceptance and decisions about guilt.

Leverick also reported that rape myths arose frequently during deliberations. In deliberations, jurors regularly expressed false beliefs about matters such as the absence of extensive injury, resistance indicating consent, and rape allegations often being unfounded and easy to make. For example:

Leverick reports that jurors' false beliefs about injury and resistance were not found to change in response to guidance by expert witness testimony or judicial instruction. Jurors expected resistance, for example, despite expert testimony to the contrary or instructions that force is not a requirement for establishing the offense of rape or a struggle to establish non-consent.

Leverick concludes that overwhelming evidence exists that prejudicial and false beliefs held by jurors about rape and rape victims affect their evaluation of evidence and decision-making in rape cases.

Source Leverick, F. (2020). What do we know about rape myths and juror decision making? The International Journal of Evidence & Proof, 24(3), pp.255-279.

Source McMahon, S. & Farmer, G.L. (2011). An updated measure for assessing subtle rape myths. Social Work Research, 35(2), pp. 71-81.