Rape law reform and the effect of victim characteristics on case processing

Cassia Spohn, Julie Homey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


Rape law reforms enacted during the past 20 years were designed to shift the focus of a rape case from the victim to the offender. Reformers and criminal justice officials speculated that changes in the rules of evidence and enactment of rape shield laws would result in less suspicion of the claims of rape victims and would make it less likely that the character, reputation, and behavior of the victim would affect decision making about the case. In this paper we examine the impact of rape law reform on the factors affecting the outcome of sexual assault cases bound over for trial in Detroit. We find little support for our hypothesis that the effect of victim characteristics on case processing decisions declined in the postreform period. Most of the victim characteristics did not have the expected effects on the likelihood of case dismissal, charge reduction, conviction, or incarceration. We did, on the other hand, find that the proportion of cases involving evidence of risk-taking behavior on the part of the victim or questions about the victim's credibility increased in the postreform period.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)383-409
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of Quantitative Criminology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 1993
Externally publishedYes


  • case processing
  • decision factors
  • rape law reform
  • rape victims

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Law


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