Thursday, March 31, 2016

Rape Perpetrators on Trial: The Effect of Sexual Assault-Related Schemas on Attributions of Blame

Research has consistently shown that jurors are influenced by multiple schemas in cases of alleged sexual assault, including offense stereotypes and victim stereotypes. These schemas appear to be organized in a hierarchy, as victim stereotypicality seems to matter most in acquaintance assaults (counter-stereotypical offense). However, despite numerous studies demonstrating the impact of defendant stereotypes on juror perceptions of guilt for other crimes, to date, the impact of stereotypes about defendants (perpetrators) in cases involving sexual violence have been overlooked. 

As such, the current research aimed to build on the existing hierarchical schema model by systematically examining the influence of perpetrator stereotypes. Following pilot work, mock jurors' (N= 163) read a rape scenario that varied in terms of offense stereotypicality (stereotypical, counter-stereotypical), victim stereotypicality (stereotypical, counter-stereotypical), and perpetrator stereotypicality (stereotypical, counter-stereotypical). 

Broadly consistent effects of offense stereotypicality and victim stereotypicality were observed across the outcome measures, such that the victim was perceived more positively and the perpetrator more negatively when the victim was described as being stereotypical and when the offense was described as stereotypical. 

However, contrary to past findings, the effect of victim stereotypicality did not differ as a function of offense stereotypicality. Furthermore, perpetrator stereotypicality did not influence perceptions in the stereotypical offense scenario. These findings suggest that contrary to the assertions of previous research, there is not a series of specific, individual stereotypes that impact attributions of blame, rather, there may be one underlying schema about consent that influences perceptions. 

These findings have important implications for how we address the effect of juror-held schemas on attributions of blame in cases of sexual assault.

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  • 1University of Queensland, St. Lucia, Australia
  • 2University of Queensland, St. Lucia, Australia. 
  •  2016 Mar 28. pii: 0886260516640777.

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