05:57am Wednesday 20 September 2017

Rape myth beliefs: implications for sexual assault policing

CSU's Professor Jane Goodman-Delahunty
The study, ‘The Influence of Victim Intoxication and Victim Attire on Police Responses to Sexual Assault’, is by Professor Jane Goodman-Delahunty, a researcher at the CSU Australian Graduate School of Policing in Manly, and the School of Psychology in Bathurst, and her research associate, Ms Kelly Graham.
 
Professor Goodman-Delahunty said that reporting to police is the first, and potentially, most important step in the legal processing of sexual assault cases, and common reasons given by victims of sexual assault for why they fail to report these crimes include fear of lack of support or disbelief by police.
 
“Police investigators have extensive discretionary power about whether to take the case forward, so it is important to study factors that influence police decision making,” Professor Goodman-Delahunty said. “If police officers’ evaluation of sexual assault cases is affected by belief in rape myths and victim characteristics, this could have serious implications for the processing of these cases.
 
“Rape myths are commonly held beliefs and attitudes about sexual assault cases that are generally false, such as the belief that rape is most likely to be perpetrated by a stranger. These myths can affect one’s view of a sexual assault victim and a perpetrator, as can contextual factors such as victim attire and victim intoxication, which may increase the perception that the complainant was responsible for the assault, or the perception that the complainant is not credible.”
 
The participants in this study were 125 detectives from the NSW Police Force who read detailed written witness statements from both the victim and perpetrator pertaining to an investigation of a report of date rape. The officers were then asked to fill out a questionnaire evaluating their perceptions of the alleged rape and their views of the complainant. (See fuller methodology description in Media Note at end.)
 
The researchers found no differences between male and female officers on any measures of their responses to the sexual assault claim, and no difference between officers who had completed the training in investigation and management of adult sexual assault cases and officers who had not.
 
Contrary to previous study findings, this study found the investigators’ perceptions of the intoxication of the victim had no impact on their evaluations of and responses to the sexual assault claim.
 
However, those officers who endorsed more rape myths perceived the complainant as less credible, attributed her greater responsibility for the incident and were less likely to believe that she communicated non-consent. They were also less likely to regard the alleged perpetrator as guilty of sexual assault, and were less likely to recommend that the alleged offender be charged.
 
When the complainant was perceived to be more sexually ‘provocative’, she was attributed significantly more responsibility for the alleged sexual assault. However, her clothing was not associated with diminished responsibility of the perpetrator, nor did it reduce the determination that sexual assault occurred. No associations were found between the complainant’s attire and lower ratings of her credibility or a lower likelihood of charging the alleged perpetrator.
 

“Training in rape myth awareness may increase understanding of sexual assault and subsequently reduce the impact of rape myths and improve investigative practice in these cases,” Professor Goodman-Delahunty said. “Ultimately, this may reduce the rate of attrition at the charge stage and encourage more reporting.”

ends

Media Officer : Bruce Andrews
Telephone : 02 63386084

Media Note:

Contact CSU Media to arrange interviews with Professor Jane Goodman-Delahunty.
‘The Influence of Victim Intoxication and Victim Attire on Police Responses to Sexual Assault’ is published online in Journal of Investigative Psychology and Offender Profiling (Wiley), December 2010.
 

In this study the participants were 125 detectives from the NSW Police Force, whose training and procedures for investigating sexual assault have since changed. The majority of participants were male (71.3 per cent), 35 were female (28.7 per cent), and three failed to identify their gender. Three-fifths (59.2 per cent) of officers had completed the voluntary ‘Investigation Management of Adult Sexual Assault’ course offered by the NSW Police. The officers read written witness statements from both the victim and perpetrator pertaining to an investigation of a report of date rape. Half of the participants were informed that the victim was drinking alcohol (6 or 7 beers), while the other half were informed that she drank a soft drink. The alleged perpetrator admitted in his statement to sexual intercourse, but claimed that it was consensual. Witness statements were accompanied by a photograph of the complainant wearing ‘conservative’ clothing (shirt, jacket, long pants), ‘provocative’ clothing (midriff singlet-top, short skirt), or no photograph. Participants were also provided with the information that a semen sample was confirmed, and that there was no medical evidence indicative of violence or other abnormalities (i.e., bruising, tearing, etc). Officers were then asked to fill out a questionnaire evaluating their perceptions of the alleged rape and their views of the complainant.


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