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Justice Difficult for Drinking Rape Victims

Jurors See Drinking Victims As Partially Responsible


Juries are less likely to return guilty verdicts against men accused of rape if the victim was drunk at the time, even if the intoxication was involuntary, according to a new study by the British Economic and Social Research Council.

Researchers found that jurors often consider it "reasonable" for a man to assume that silence represented sexual consent. The surprising finding of the study was that jurors considered silence consent even when that silence was due to woman being totally intoxicated.

Because it is illegal for actual jurors to be interviewed in England, researchers used mock trials and juries to conduct their research. According to a news release, these are the main findings of their study:

  • In situations where the woman had become involuntary drunk, many jurors continued to hold her partially responsible for what took place - either because she accepted drinks from the defendant, failed to stand her ground against pressure to drink more or did not take adequate care to ensure that her drinks were not 'spiked' (by either extra alcohol or drugs)

  • Even when a woman had unknowingly drunk spiked drinks, juries were reluctant to convict defendants of rape unless they were convinced that the drink had been spiked with the specific intention of sexual assault, as opposed to 'loosening up' a reluctant partner.

  • It also emerged that jurors were less inclined to equate 'taking advantage' of a drunken women with rape in situations in which the woman's normal behavior was to drink heavily in the company of men.

  • By contrast, in cases where the date rape drug - Rohypnol - had been used, jurors were more inclined to hold the defendant responsible for rape, even though the effect of the drug on the woman was the same as if she were very drunk.

"These findings reflect the hold that gender stereotypes still have. They suggest that 'rape myths' can have a profound influence upon jurors," said study author Vanessa Monro. "In cases in which the evidence suggests clear links between excessive alcohol consumption and sexual assault, these findings suggest that more needs to be done at both legal level and in society as a whole, to secure justice for victims of rape."

From Sobriety to Stupefaction: Intoxication and Jury Decision-Making in Rape Trials

See Also:
Rape and Sexual Assault

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