What rape myths shape verdicts in rape 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:
- blaming the victim/survivor ("she asked for it") -- beliefs that women are (at least somewhat) responsible if they were drinking, wearing provocative clothing, in a room alone with a man, acting provocatively, didn't say 'no' sufficiently clearly, or kissed the man
- excusing the accused ("he didn't mean to") -- beliefs that male sexuality is uncontrollable once ignited, men don't intend to force sex on women and just get carried away, or a drunk man might rape someone unintentionally or not realize what he was doing
- what 'real rape' looks like ("it wasn't really rape") -- beliefs that it isn't rape if a woman doesn't protest verbally, physically resist sex, fight back and have bruises; beliefs it is rape only if it occurs between strangers in public places, the man has a weapon, and it is accompanied by violence
- doubting allegations ("she lied") -- beliefs that quite often women who say they are raped agree to have sex and then regret it, rape accusations are a way to get back at guys, women who allege rape really just have emotional problems, and women often claim rape when they are caught cheating on their boyfriends
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:
- Many jurors expressed in deliberations the belief that a genuine victim of rape would have fought back to the extent that she would have suffered substantial defensive injuries, including internal trauma. Acquittal verdicts were frequently justified with reference to the absence of more serious or more extensive injuries. Some jurors insisted that even a heavily intoxicated complainant would be expected to offer physical resistance. Female jurors often expressed these views, asserting that if they had been in the complainant's situation, they would have struggled more forcefully, insisting that their instinctive reaction would be to lash out aggressively and inflict injury on the defendant, and expressing a confidence that they would be able to do this even where the assailtant was stronger than themselves.
- The male defendant at times was regarded as being at the mercy of his sexual drives, which may have led him to having a genuine (reasonable) belief in consent. The belief that the defendant might have been so passionate and into it or so transfixed that he would not be able to register what the woman was actually doing was regularly expressed by mock jurors. One juror stated, for example, that "a woman can stop right up to the last second; a man cannot, he's just got to keep going, he's like a train, he's just got to keep going."
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 overwheming 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.