Explaining gender differences in jurors' reactions to child sexual assault cases.

Behav Sci Law 2014 Nov-Dec;32(6):789-812. Epub 2014 Nov 28.

University of Illinois at Chicago, IL.

In three experiments, we investigated the influence of juror, victim, and case factors on mock jurors' decisions in several types of child sexual assault cases (incest, day care, stranger abduction, and teacher-perpetrated abuse). We also validated and tested the ability of several scales measuring empathy for child victims, children's believability, and opposition to adult/child sex, to mediate the effect of jurors' gender on case judgments. Supporting a theoretical model derived from research on the perceived credibility of adult rape victims, women compared to men were more empathic toward child victims, more opposed to adult/child sex, more pro-women, and more inclined to believe children generally. In turn, women (versus men) made more pro-victim judgments in hypothetical abuse cases; that is, attitudes and empathy generally mediated this juror gender effect that is pervasive in this literature. The experiments also revealed that strength of case evidence is a powerful factor in determining judgments, and that teen victims (14 years old) are blamed more for sexual abuse than are younger children (5 years old), but that perceptions of 5 and 10 year olds are largely similar. Our last experiment illustrated that our findings of mediation generalize to a community member sample.

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September 2015
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