Prosecution of Sexual Assault: How Far Have We Come in 40 Years?

Date: April 19, 2017 • 12:30 - 1:30 p.m.
Presenters: Linda Williams, Ph.D., with members of the Justice and Gender-Based Violence Research Team
Location: Cheever House, Wellesley College

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In 1979 The Aftermath of Rape, co-authored by Linda (Meyer) Williams, Ph.D., was published and reported a very high level of sexual violence case attrition -- that is, many sexual assault reports made to the police were never followed up and few were prosecuted. In the past 40 years in the U.S., we have seen progress in response to sexual violence, but careful research shows that there remains a very high rate of case attrition. In this seminar, members of WCW's Justice and Gender-Based Violence Research (JGBVR) team, headed by Williams, will present new findings from their recent study of over 3,000 cases of rape reported to the police in six jurisdictions across the U.S. They found that most cases do not result in prosecution -- in fact one in three cases with probable cause did not result in arrest. Based on qualitative interviews with prosecutors, detectives, and victim services, they will unpack the reasons, rationales, and justifications for case attrition and how law, justice, and system practices intersect to maintain the high rates of case attrition. The discussion will raise questions about how after four decades of advocacy for victims of rape, so few see justice served and whether and how the #MeToo movement will change this.

Linda M. Williams, Ph.D., is a senior research scientist and co-director of the Justice and Gender-Based Violence Research Initiative at the Wellesley Centers for Women. The focus of her current work is on justice system response to sexual violence, commercial sexual exploitation of women and children, human trafficking, intimate partner violence, and child maltreatment.

For those who are unable to attend in person, many programs are streamed live on Facebook and the videos are archived on our website.

The Lunchtime Seminar Series at the Wellesley Centers for Women is free and open to the public. Most programs are held Thursdays, 12:30 - 1:30 p.m. at the Centers’ Cheever House location. Guests are invited to bring their lunches, and WCW will provide tea and coffee. For accessibility questions, contact Disability Services at Wellesley College.

Questions: \ 781.283.2500

The Lunchtime Seminar Series schedule is subject to change. To confirm program lineup, call 781.283.2500 or visit

Wellesley Centers for Women