Dec 01, 2008

Convicting Date Rapists and Domestic Abusers: Women May Be Their Own Worst Enemy

Date rape and domestic violence are two of the most serious crimes in which the victims are almost always women. Yet the conviction rate of the perpetrators of these violent acts is abysmally low. Unfortunately, the all-too-frequent behavior of the victims of these crimes contributes to the low conviction rate.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, women who have been subjected to domestic violence very often refuse to cooperate with police and prosecutors. For example, they may recant earlier complaints, or simply disappear when their attackers are put on trial. And recent changes in evidence rules make it almost impossible for prosecutors to win convictions unless abused women appear at trial and describe what happened while under oath.  

As for date rape, a recent study, as reported in Self magazine, indicates that when a woman has known her alleged assailant for less than 24 hours, 43% of rape trials end with convictions. However, when a woman has known her alleged assailant for more than 24 hours, the conviction rate falls to 35%. By contrast, the conviction rate in so-called "stranger rape" cases (when a woman has had no prior contact with her alleged attacker) is 68%.

What type of female behavior contributes to the low conviction rate in date-rape cases? Often, date rape victims fail to report the crimes immediately to the police, nor do they go to a hospital for a rape exam and toxicology test. Moreover, in date rape situations the women have often been drinking alcohol shortly before the alleged rape occurred. Finally, in some cases, women have even gone out on post-rape dates with their attackers (perhaps hoping for an apology, or to validate their suspicion that they had been raped on the earlier occasion). Needless to say, defense attorneys can emphasize these types of behavior when arguing that there's reasonable doubt that a rape took place.

The victims' behavior that makes it difficult for prosecutors to convict domestic abusers and date rapists may be psychologically understandable. For example, domestic abusers may  silence victims with threats of future violence, and date rape victims may be in denial before they are ready to report what happened. Nevertheless, under the glare of the adversary system, these types of behavior are powerful impediments to conviction.