Men are less likely than women to convict a man accused of raping his intimate partner, and are comparatively less sympathetic towards victims than defendants, UTSA psychologist Kellie Lynch found in recent research.
Lynch and four colleagues recruited over 280 adult U.S. citizens, enlisted and surveyed with online tools, to find out how jury-eligible Americans perceive intimate partner rape, perpetrated by a man against his female partner, in courtroom settings.
The researchers presented participants with a fictional trial featuring opening and closing arguments as well as witness testimony. The paid volunteers rated the accused and accuser on their credibility and responsibility for the incident, then delivered a verdict: guilty of rape in the first degree, or not guilty. In a second experiment, participants were given two more conviction options: intimate partner rape or sexual misconduct.
“Women were more willing to render a guilty verdict than men,” Lynch explained. “They rated the victim more positively — higher sympathy for the victim, lower blame, higher credibility — and rated the defendant more negatively.”
In both experiments, about two-thirds of men rendered a verdict of not guilty. Roughly half the women delivered not-guilty verdicts in the first experiment, but that number dropped to about 20 percent when they were given more options.
“Most women were saying that it was either sexual misconduct or intimate partner rape,” Lynch said. “Very few men and women convicted the defendant of your typical, regular, felony rape.”
Participants who charged the man with sexual misconduct cited the partners’ relationship and previous sexual history as mitigating factors. The paper’s title, “She Is His Girlfriend — I Believe This Is A Different Situation,” is an exemplary quote from one volunteer.
The survey was intended to describe a first-degree rape, based on conversations Lynch had with a prosecutor. Heads-up, nastiness incoming: the man was punching furniture during an argument with his partner earlier that night, and the pair had not had sex for three months due to frequent arguments, so he “shouted at her that she was supposed to have sex with him” before “[holding] her down on the bed while he engaged in sexual intercourse” as she “[screamed] at him to stop.”
Lynch explained participants had “a ridiculously high standard of proof.”
“They think there must be all this evidence that a rape really occurred, and it’s just not the case,” Lynch said. “Clearly, there’s an issue here in what people think is ‘real rape.’”
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