Juries reluctant to convict in rape cases in which alcohol involved

With the Christmas party season upon us changes in the law that were supposed to make it easier to convict men of rape might not result in more convictions in cases in which the woman was drunk, according to new research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.

Under the current law in England and Wales, rape can only be established if it can be demonstrated that sexual intercourse took place to which there was no consent and that the defendant lacked a reasonable belief that such consent had been given. The 2003 Sexual Offences Act changed the criteria for the defendant believing he had consent from being a view he 'honestly' held to one that was 'reasonable' for him to hold - this was intended to ensure that defendants were held to a higher level of responsibility.

However, researchers have found that jurors often took the view that it was 'reasonable' for a man to assume that silence represented sexual consent, even if the silence was due to the fact that the woman was totally intoxicated.

Because it is unlawful to conduct research with real juries, researchers, Emily Finch and Vanessa Munro, used trial and jury room simulations to find out how the legislation was working.

Their other main findings were:

  • 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 behaviour 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.

Vanessa Munro of King's College London, commenting on the findings said:

"These findings reflect the hold that gender stereotypes still have. They suggest that 'rape myths' can have a profound influence upon jurors. 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."

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FOR FURTHER INFORMATION, CONTACT: Dr Vanessa Munro on 0207 848 1841/0207 848 2823 email: vanessa.munro@kcl.ac.uk or Dr Emily Finch on 0773 945 9877

ESRC Press Office
Alexandra Saxon Tel: 01793 413032, e-mail: alexandra.saxon@esrc.ac.uk

NOTES FOR EDITORS:

  1. The research "From Sobriety to Stupefaction: Intoxication and Jury Decision-Making in Rape Trials" was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). It was undertaken by Dr. Emily Finch and Dr. Vanessa Munro and was largely carried out at the University of Reading. Dr Finch is now based at the University of East Anglia and Dr Munro is at Kings College, University of London.

  2. Methodology: Because of the Contempt of Court Act it remains unlawful to interview jurors about what happened inside the jury room; hence the researchers designed an alternative methodology for investigating this problem. The findings are based on seven scripted mini-trial scenarios, based on the observation of actual rape trials, and written in consultation with legal experts and practitioners. The trials (which lasted approximately 75 minutes) were played out in real-time in front of an audience of mock jurors, with actors playing the roles of victim, defendant, prosecution witness and defence witness, and with trained barristers performing examinations and cross-examinations. Each trial was observed simultaneously by three juries, recruited via advertisements in the local press and radio. Having observed the trial unfold, each jury was led to a room and advised that they had 90 minutes in which to deliberate upon and reach a common verdict. These deliberations were recorded and then analysed.

  3. The ESRC is the UK's largest funding agency for research and postgraduate training relating to social and economic issues. It provides independent, high quality, relevant research to business, the public sector and Government. The ESRC's planned total expenditure in 2006-07 is 169 million. At any one time the ESRC At any time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and research policy institutes. More at http://www.esrcsocietytoday.ac.uk/

  4. ESRC Society Today offers free access to a broad range of social science research and presents it in a way that makes it easy to navigate and saves users valuable time. As well as bringing together all ESRC-funded research (formerly accessible via the Regard website) and key online resources such as the Social Science Information Gateway and the UK Data Archive, non-ESRC resources are included, for example the Office for National Statistics. The portal provides access to early findings and research summaries, as well as full texts and original datasets through integrated search facilities. More at http://www.esrcsocietytoday.ac.uk/

  5. The ESRC confirms the quality of its funded research by evaluating research projects through a process of peer review. This research has been graded as 'outstanding'.


Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
    Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.

 

 

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