A study by University College London (UCL) has found that jurors do not commonly believe in rape myths, contradicting a petition in Parliament in 2018.
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The 2018 petition
There have long been suggestions in the media that jurors in rape trials typically acquit defendants. It has been reported that jurors believe in certain ‘rape myths’, making them biased against the complainant. This has prompted some to call for jury trials in rape cases to be abolished.
These concerns prompted a petition in Parliament in 2018, calling for jurors in rape trials to undertake compulsory training on rape myths – an example of which might be that sex is always consensual if both parties are under the influence of alcohol. The petition made a number of claims, including that “jurors accept commonly held rape myths” and that 66% of jurors did not understand the judge when he/she provided guidance attempting to dispel these rape myths.
However, the claims made by the petition were not based on any actual research. Rather, they relied on opinion polls and anecdotal evidence. The government – which was obliged to respond to the petition – said that appropriate research was needed. Furthermore, judges already provide directions to juries about rape myths and are able to do so at any stage of a trial. The guidelines relating to rape myths is set out in a book called the Crown Court Compendium and deals with issues such as intoxication, clothing and inconsistent accounts.
The UCL study
The ‘evidence’ put forward in the petition also contradicts the findings of the UCL Jury Project, which was conducted between 2018 and 2019. The study wanted to ascertain whether judges should provide additional guidance and if actual jurors did believe in rape myths and stereotypes. Some 1,175 jurors were asked about common rape myths. The vast majority did not believe them, and those who did amounted to less than one person on a jury. The research just goes to show that the assertions made in the petition were incorrect.
However, the study did throw light on certain issues. Most notably, jurors were uncertain as to whether stranger rape or acquaintance rape is more common. Also, jurors showed some bias in the amount of emotion they expected to see from a complainant, with nearly half of jurors expecting a complainant to be very emotional. In fact, it varies from case to case. The UCL Jury Project, therefore, intends to carry out further research in order to determine the best way to direct juries on these issues.
Rape is a serious allegation. If you have been accused of rape, you need an experienced criminal defence solicitor on your side. At Ashmans Solicitors, our team can represent you throughout proceedings, fighting on your behalf to show that any allegations of sexual assault are unfounded.
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