Friday, March 30, 2007

Study Finds Police Manuals Blame Victim in Rape Cases

This University of Virginia Law School article examines an important issue in law enforcement.

While law professor Anne Coughlin was studying old police interrogation manuals as part of her preparation to teach Miranda v. Arizona in her criminal procedure course back in the mid-1990s, she observed that all of the manuals recommended the use of victim-blaming stories in order to elicit confessions from suspects. This was particularly true of rape investigations, she found. [...]

Around the same time as Miranda in 1966, which guaranteed suspects the right to talk to an attorney and the right to remain silent, Coughlin explained, “legislators across the country moved to eliminate victim-blaming from the substantive criminal law and to sharply limit the use of victim-blaming as an evidentiary strategy by defense lawyers.” [...]

Coughlin said her intuition was that victim-blaming in any area has the potential to reinforce the sexist stereotypes that blame women for being raped and that relieve their attackers for culpability for the crimes. The very fact that suspects continue to believe these scripts show that the sexist stereotypes continue to exist.

Worse, Coughlin said, in acquaintance-rape cases, this victim-blaming strategy is handing the suspect a legal excuse, not just a moral one. In these cases, the suspect is not contesting that the sex occurred, but that it was consensual. Police are giving them an excuse: that they honestly believed the victim consented. Coughlin said it was clear to her in these instances that the victim-blaming stories should be done away with.

From the first time I heard about investigators using victim blaming in their suspect interviews, I had concerns about this interview strategy because of the potential it had to reinforce victim blaming by confirming sex offenders' beliefs that every sensible man-- even sex crimes investigators-- agrees with them. However, I didn't realize that it also had the potential to undermine the legal case.

With so many rape cases where the suspect is interviewed but never charged, these victim-blaming interviews combined with low prosecution rates can have a side effect of reinforcing the very crime the investigator is trying to fight.

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Reminder: April 5, 2007 is Blog Against Sexual Violence Day.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 12:02 PM   0 comments links to this post

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