It All Just Piles Up: Challenges to Victim Credibility Accumulate to Influence Sexual Assault Case Processing

Year Published: 2016

Author: Melissa Morabito, Ph.D., April Pattavina, Ph.D., and Linda M. Williams, Ph.D.

Source: Journal of Interpersonal Violence

The underreporting of sexual assault is well known to researchers, practitioners, and victims. When victims do report, their complaints are unlikely to end in arrest or prosecution. Existing research on police discretion suggests that the police decision to arrest for sexual assault offenses can be influenced by a variety of legal and extra-legal factors particularly challenges to victim credibility. Although extant literature examines the effects of individual behaviors on police outcomes, less is known about how the accumulation of these behaviors, attributions, and characteristics affects police decision making. Using data collected from the Los Angeles Police Department and Sheriff’s Department, the researchers examine one police decision point—the arrest—to fill this gap in the literature. They examine the extent to which the effects of potential challenges to victim credibility, based on victim characteristics and behaviors, influence the arrest decision, and next, how these predictors vary across circumstances. Specifically, the team examines how factors that challenge victim credibility affect the likelihood of arrest in sexual assault cases where the victim and offender are strangers, acquaintances, and intimate partners.