How rape myths are used and challenged in rape and sexual assault trials

Olivia Smith, Tina Skinner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

17 Citations (Scopus)
3589 Downloads (Pure)

Abstract

Court responses to rape and sexual assault have been repeatedly criticized in England and Wales (Brown et al., 2010). In particular, research has identified prevalent stereotypes about rape in both the criminal justice system and wider society, with these rape myths often being used as the predominant explanation for inadequate victim/survivor treatment (see Temkin and Krahé, 2008). The existing literature, though, tends to rely on interviews or is outdated by policy, so the present research uses court observations to explore what is actually happening in adult rape and sexual assault trials. The findings show that rape myths are still routinely used at trial, but that they are sometimes resisted using judicial directions or prosecution comments. In addition, the research highlights how rape myths are kept ‘relevant’ to trial through a focus on inconsistencies, a dichotomy of wholly truthful/untruthful witnesses, and conceptualisations of ‘rational’ behaviour as being the ‘normal’ way to act. These findings provide a new understanding of rape myths and have implications for policy; in particular, that while training legal professionals is helpful, it cannot be expected to fully address the use of rape myths.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)441-466
Number of pages26
JournalSocial & Legal Studies
Volume26
Issue number4
Early online date10 Jan 2017
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2017

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