Rape is the most underreported crime in the United States, according to Dean G. Kilpatrick. RAINN (Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network) reports that only 40% of rapes and assaults are reported to the police.  Most women fear that justice will not be served in the case of their rape or assault; this is due to the stereotype that women are temptresses and therefore are responsible for getting assaulted.  In past cases, if the victim was intoxicated and/or dressed promiscuously, the defendant would be acquitted, because the victim was ‘asking for it.’  The stereotype is so pervasive that a jury comprised of all females is even more likely to acquit the defendant.  According to RAINN, 15 of 16 rapists walk free.

Rapes continue to go unreported, possibly because about 2/3 of rapes are committed by someone known to the victim (RAINN).  The victims feel a connection with their assailant, especially if they are apart of the 38% of rapists who are a friend or acquaintance.  Victims who are raped often feel embarrassed and dirty due to the violation.  The victims may feel as if they are living down to the stereotype that women are temptresses and that they are unable to control themselves.  The consequence of the acceptance of this stereotype is that the rapists are rarely convicted.

In the courtroom, women on the jury see the stereotype and react judgmentally and subjectively.  Women tend to judge the victim more harshly than men do, due to the innate competitive nature and sexual jealousy experienced between women.  Also, the jury experiences cognitive dissonance, because they want to believe that the world is a fair place, but something unfair has happened.  Therefore, the victim must be blamed for the crime in order to ease the tension in the juries’ mind.  This leads to confirmation of the stereotype poised against the victim.  The victim will then internalize the prejudice directed towards her and complete the cycle of the stereotype threat.  Because of hindsight bias the victims begin to see themselves as responsible for the assault, especially if the defendant’s lawyer attacks their character.

In an attempt to reduce the juries’ dissonance experience, the identity and appearance of the victim should be concealed.  This would allow the jury to objectively assess the situation and all of the facts at hand, instead of focusing on their personal judgments about the victim.  The defendant’s appearance and identity should also be concealed to avoid bias in favor of an apparently upstanding citizen.

Unfortunately, most rape cases come down to he said, she said.  It is tragic that women cannot empathize with other women, who are in desperate need of their support, allowing most rapists to walk free.


~ by katierc on July 23, 2010.

One Response to “Judgment”

  1. What a thoughtful post. The idea of concealing the identity and appearance of the victim is an interesting one. I wonder if this would also make it easier for people to report rapes–that is, if they knew that their identities would not be made public in court. I’d imagine that’s a pretty big deterrent. As far as the idea of concealing facts about the victim for fear that the jury will think that she was “asking for it,” there’s a federal evidence law called the “rape shield law” that attempts to deal with some of those issues. The main point of the rape shield law is to keep the defense from cross-examining the victim about her prior sexual conduct. The idea is that if the jury thinks that the woman was “easy” or “loose,” they’re less likely to assess her claims fairly and more likely to think that she was somehow “asking for it.” (I keep writing “she.” I don’t mean to suggest that men and boys aren’t victims of rape and sexual assault, too–they most certainly are–but I suspect that women and girls are by far the most frequent rape victims, so I keep using “she.”) You can read some basics about the rape shield law on Wikipedia here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rape_shield_law. There are also some interesting criticisms of it, some of which were discussed a lot in the Kobe Bryant case: http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/editorials/2003-07-27-estrich_x.htm. Also, here’s an entry from a public defender who keeps a blog: http://publicdefenderdude.blogspot.com/2004/08/rape-shield-law.html.

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