We, the jury, find the defendant…
Have you ever been on a jury? Deciding someone’s fate in a criminal jury trial has to be one of the toughest decisions there is, especially in sex crime cases.
I’m assuming the majority of our population does not study the Iowa sexual assault statutes. At the conclusion of a trial, after the state and defense rests (meaning all of their witnesses have testified) the jury is given the instructions on how to find beyond a reasonable doubt if the defendant is guilty or not- guilty of the charge/s presented to them. What the jury is not told is that they aren’t only deciding the fate of the defendant but of the victim as well, this decision will affect the victim for the rest of his/her life.
Myths and Stereotypes about Sexual Assult
There are several myths and stereotypes that our society still believes about sexual assault cases which could, in turn, affect the belief system during a jury trial such as the “typical victim”. Sexual violence can happen to anyone, regardless of sex, race, age, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, ability, or religion. Many times jurors think that “real” sexual assault victims are attractive, young or sexually inexperienced. This particular stereotype of sexual assault victims is often related to the mistaken belief that rape is about sex, rather than violence, and that the attractiveness of the victim is one of the “causes” of the assault.
Perhaps my most appalling comment from a juror came last week after a jury found the defendant not guilty. The foreman discussed with the prosecutor why the jury made that decision and then when on to say “At least she wasn’t hurt”!
At least she wasn’t hurt is another common myth about those affected by sexual violence. Jurors must understand that rape is a life-threatening event and victims make split-second decisions about how to react to sexual violence in order to survive.
Some victims respond to the severe trauma of sexual violence through the psychological phenomenon of dissociation, which is sometimes described as “leaving one’s body,” while some others describe a state of “frozen fright,” in which they become powerless and completely passive. Physical resistance is unlikely in victims who experience dissociation or frozen fright or among victims who were drinking or using drugs before being assaulted. To a rape victim, a threat of violence or death is immediate regardless of whether the rapist uses a deadly weapon.
The absence of injuries might suggest to some jurors that the victim failed to resist and, therefore, must have consented. The fact that a victim ceased resistance to the assault for fear of greater harm or chose not to resist at all does not mean that the victim gave consent. Each rape victim does whatever is necessary to do at the time in order to survive. The victim’s decisions about whether to resist during a sexual assault can lead to jurors’ victim-blaming or perceiving the victim as less credible.
Studies show that sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes, with 60 percent still being unreported. The closer the relationship between the victim and the perpetrator, the less likely the victim will report the crime to the police. Victim credibility is often the primary issue in sexual assault prosecutions and this is especially so in non-stranger cases. Some people are so skeptical of sexual assault allegations that they assume that most victims are lying when they report their victimization to law enforcement. The mistaken belief that most sexual assault allegations are false is unfortunately common. Significantly, research indicates that only 2 to 8 percent of sexual assault cases involve false reporting.
Jurors consist of everyday people who then are chosen to decide these fates of a defendant and of someone who has survived horrific trauma caused by a sexual assault. It could be me or you making that decision someday. It starts with you and me educating those in our community about the rape myths that I suggested above. Maybe, just maybe will a jury someday realize that someone is NOT able to give consent to anything sexual while being intoxicated instead of simply thinking “kids, will be kids”.