Liberating Discretion: The Effect of Rape Myth Factors on Prosecutors’ Decisions to Charge Suspects in Penetrative and Non-Penetrative Sex Offenses

Suzanne St. George, Cassia Spohn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

In sexual assault cases, prosecutorial charging decisions may be influenced by legal factors like offense seriousness and convictability and extralegal rape myths. We use data on sexual assaults in Los Angeles, to test for the effects of victim behavior, victim credibility, and “real rape” stereotypes on the decision to file charges. We also test the liberation hypothesis, examining whether rape myths influence the charge decision more in less serious nonpenetrative cases then in penetrative cases. Results show that victim credibility and behavior, but not consistency with real rape stereotypes, affect charging decisions, even after controlling for legally relevant factors, and they influence prosecutors’ charging decisions equally in penetrative and nonpenetrative cases. Rape myths also influence the charging decision indirectly via victim cooperation. We conclude that rape myths are incorporated into the criminal justice system’s definition of and response to sexual violence, so cannot be addressed by changing case screening policies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJustice Quarterly
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - Jan 1 2018

Fingerprint

Rape
Sex Offenses
rape
myth
offense
assault
credibility
stereotype
charge
legal factors
Criminal Law
Los Angeles
liberation
sexual violence
justice

Keywords

  • liberation hypothesis
  • Prosecutor’s charging decision
  • rape myths
  • sexual assault

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Law

Cite this

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title = "Liberating Discretion: The Effect of Rape Myth Factors on Prosecutors’ Decisions to Charge Suspects in Penetrative and Non-Penetrative Sex Offenses",
abstract = "In sexual assault cases, prosecutorial charging decisions may be influenced by legal factors like offense seriousness and convictability and extralegal rape myths. We use data on sexual assaults in Los Angeles, to test for the effects of victim behavior, victim credibility, and “real rape” stereotypes on the decision to file charges. We also test the liberation hypothesis, examining whether rape myths influence the charge decision more in less serious nonpenetrative cases then in penetrative cases. Results show that victim credibility and behavior, but not consistency with real rape stereotypes, affect charging decisions, even after controlling for legally relevant factors, and they influence prosecutors’ charging decisions equally in penetrative and nonpenetrative cases. Rape myths also influence the charging decision indirectly via victim cooperation. We conclude that rape myths are incorporated into the criminal justice system’s definition of and response to sexual violence, so cannot be addressed by changing case screening policies.",
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