Sexual Violence against Women and Criminal Justice Response

Sexual Violence against Women and Criminal Justice Response


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Sexual Violence against Women and Criminal Justice Response

Research is a detailed study into a particular issue, concern or problem using scientific method. It is the study of specific groups of people and specific outcomes by analyzing data gathered in the past In this case, the research study is the scientific way to study how criminal justice systems respond to sexual assault claims and the decision by victims to report these assaults to the police.

The purpose of research study is to identify and determine: factors influencing processing decisions on sexual assault cases especially decisions by prosecutor and police; effect of the set up sex crimes units established to investigate claims of sexual assault among other sex offences; the extent of sexual violence against women; effects of sexual violence; the effect of victim characteristics on sexual assault case processing judgments in various categories of sexual assault.

A research problem is a statement about a condition that requires a solution and for which possible solutions are available. The research problem generates questions which the research strives to answer and provides the context for the research study. The purpose of research problem statement is to 1) introduce the reader to the significance of the topic being studied since the reader is concerned with the significance of the research study and research questions to follow, 2) place the research problem into certain context that describes the parameters to be investigated, and 3) provide a framework for reporting the results.

A research question centers and guides the research being undertaken. The purpose of research question is to identify the specific points the study will address and to determine the type of research the writer will be examining. Research design is a comprehensive outline of the way an investigation will be conducted. It includes how data is to be collected, intended means and instruments employed for analyzing the data collected. Used to integrate various components of research study in a logical and coherent way. Data for this research was gathered through surveys, observations and interviews. The data collected would then be analyzed, quantified and presented as percentage.

Both qualitative and quantitative research methods were used in this research. Both were used because they complement each other and usually give diverse perspectives. Qualitative research is exploratory and is used when the outcome to expect is unknown, to come up with an approach to towards the problem or to describe the problem. It may also be used to deeply analyze topics of interest and is used to gather data that cannot be presented in numerical form. Qualitative methods of collecting data are observations and individual interviews.

Qualitative research was used to in three research studies to analyze in more detail the factors that made the prosecutors reject allegations in assault cases (Frohmann, 1991, 1997; Spohn et al., 2001). Frohmann (1991, 1997) used information collected during interviews with prosecutors and observations during case screening process to examine justifications for and explanations of assault case rejection. Qualitative research was also used to analyze the justice system’s response to sexual assault by an intimate partner. Qualitative method was used in this research to achieve a clear understanding of underlying opinions, motivations and reasons.

Quantitative research quantifies a problem and tries to understand its prevalence by looking for projectable outcomes to a larger sample population. It uses quantifiable data to uncover patterns and formulate facts in research. Methods used to collect data include surveys and questionnaires. Statistics and surveys were used to conduct this research. According to Bureau of Justice Statistics (2007), the number of victimization cases reported to police were only 41.4%. National Violence against Women survey shows that 19.1% of sexually assaulted women reported the crime. Quantitative method was used in some of the research studies to quantify data examined.

Methodology is a research strategy that generally outlines ways in which research is undertaken and identifies the methods used in the research. Specific methods are not defined in the methodology. The methodology used in this research paper is gathering relevant information from certain documents and compiling databases so as to evaluate collected material. The research is based on women who are sexually assaulted-it could be simple rape, aggravated rape, or intimate partner sexual assault.

Sampling methods used include stratified sampling, cluster sampling, expert sampling, and purposive sampling. Stratified sampling is random within target groups and was used in this research because there was a specific sub-group of sexually assaulted women to investigate. Cluster sampling was used because the sub-groups are separated and access to all these groups was difficult- the research was conducted in different cities and states. Expert sampling was also used to seek “expert’s” opinion on police judgment to question the charges and to arrest the suspect and prosecutor’s decision regarding the charges.

Return rate is the number of participants who took part in the research divided by the total number of people in the sample. It is normally expressed as a percentage. According to Thoennes and Tjaden who analyzed data on National Violence against Women Survey, only 19.1% of sexually assaulted women reported the crime. Return rate was utilized extensively in this report

The research found that sexual assault crime is seriously underreported. According to Theonnes and Tjaden (2006) who analyzed National Violence against Women survey found that 19.1% of sexually assaulted victims reported the crime. It was also established that sexual assault reporting rates were lower than those of other offences based on National Crime Victimization Survey ((Hindelang & Gottfredson, 1976; Lizotte, 1985). The reasons why these crimes were underreported include feelings of embarrassment and shame, fear of rapist’s retaliation, fear that prosecutors would question their credibility, and belief that the crime was not worth reporting (Bachman, 1998).

It was found that a report would be filed if the victims were assaulted by a stranger and had visible wounds that could validate their claims of sexual assault; the assault was less likely to be reported if the victim knew the offender or if she was using drugs or drinking when she was assaulted (Dumont et al., 2003; Felson & Paré, 2007; Greenberg & Ruback, 1992; Lizotte, 1985). In other words, the assault was only reported when the victim thinks that probability of imprisonment is high.

Victims who filed a report may however withdraw their complaint or request the discontinuation of the case. 36% of cases in San Diego were withdrawn because the victims refused to cooperate with police (Tellis & Spohn, 2008). Study conducted by Burgess and Holmstrom (1978, pp.58-59) indicated that 25% of assault victims became less willing to cooperate with the prosecutors.

Based on things that sway the victim’s decision, the victim was more likely to cooperate if she suffered collateral injuries, if she was raped by a stranger, and if the assault was serious (Tellis & Spohn, 2008). The victim was less likely to cooperate if she had drug use history and was under the influence of drugs or alcohol (Spohn et al., 2008; Tellis & Spohn, 2008). These findings suggest that police may give subtle messages to sexual assault victims who do not conform to stereotypes of actual rape with real victims. The police officer who thinks that there is less likelihood for the case to be solved may try to persuade the victim to drop the case (Kerstetter & Van Winkle, 1990).

In the factors that influence case processing decisions, it was found that cooperating victims may challenge skeptical prosecutors and police who question their allegations. The police start the process by determining; if alleged assault occurred; investigative resources to assign to pinpointing the suspect; whether to arrest the identified suspect and file charges; and whether to forward the cases to the prosecutor (Estrich, 1987).

The research established that the effect of relationship between the accused and the victim on decision making in assault cases was significant (Black, 1976). Reactions to assault varied greatly depending on the race of both the victim and the suspect. Assaults involving white women and African American men were dealt with more harshly (Brownmiller, 1975; Kennedy, 1997; Spohn, 1994; LaFree, 1989).

The author concludes that rape cases prosecution remains challenging. Sexual assault crimes are still characterized by case attrition and underreporting despite policy and legal amendments being implemented. The author concluded that most victims of acquaintance rape or date rape do not count themselves as sexual assault victims (Felson & Paré, 2005). Taylor (1987) concluded that the police assumed that the sexual assault did not occur if he doubted the victim’s story, hence would not process the case. Kerstetter (1990) concluded that both legally irrelevant characteristics of the victims and relevant instrumental aspects affected police unfounding decision. Credibility factors are also linked to cases proceeding to the prosecutor (Frazier & Haney, 1996, p. 624).

LaFree (1981) concluded that role played by the characteristics of the victim’s background was “immensely overstated” and that “lawfully significant variables were important” (p. 592). Frohmann concluded that prosecutors employed various techniques to discredit sexual assault as narrated by the victims, and thus reject the cases.

Another conclusion made by the authors in this report is that the prosecutors were more likely to reject reports of assaults committed by strangers than sexual assaults by intimate partner or acquaintances (Battele Memorial Institute Law and Justice Study Center, 1977; Loh, 1980; Tellis & Spohn, 2008; Spohn et al., 2001;); prosecutors and police are also more likely to reach agreement on the severity of criminal charges to file if the sexual assault was committed by a stranger (Holleran, Beichner, & Spohn, 2008).

On the other hand, methodologically sophisticated research concludes that the suspect-victim relationship does not affect charging decisions in assault cases by the prosecutors (Kingsnorth et al., 1999). Rather, the charging decisions in acquaintance and stranger cases are affected by various predictors (Kingsnorth et al., 1999; Spohn & Holleran, 2001). For instance, Holleran and Spohn found that the victim’s characteristics influenced charging decisions only in assault cases involving intimate partners and acquaintances.

The last conclusion made was that the effect of the victim’s or suspect’s race on charging decisions was mitigated by relationship between the offender and the victim and also by the characteristic of the victim such as “moral character” and “believability and blame” (Holleran et al., 2008; Horney & Spohn, 1996; Kalven & Zeisel, 1966; Kerstetter, 1990; Spears & Spohn, 1997; Spohn & Holleran, 2001; Spohn & Spears, 1996; Stanko, 1988; Whately, 1996).

In my opinion, the study was conducted sufficiently hence it could not have been done differently or improved. Both qualitative and quantitative research methods were used in the research study; they complement each other and usually give diverse perspectives. Also several sampling methods were used to get the actual situation on the ground. The authors used data collected from the years 1975-2008; the wide timespan means that there is high probability the conclusions derived was accurate.


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