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Prosecuting Sexual Assault: A Comparison of Charging Decisions in Sexual Assault Cases Involving Strangers, Acquaintances, and Intimate Partners

NCJ Number
Justice Quarterly Volume: 8 Issue: 3 Dated: September 2001 Pages: 651-688
Date Published
September 2001
38 pages

This study of prosecutors’ charging decisions in sexual assault cases in Kansas City and Philadelphia tested the hypothesis that the effect of victim characteristics was conditioned by the relationship between the victim and the suspect.


The data came from 259 cases in Kansas City in which the defendant was arrested in 1996, 1997, or 1998 for rape, forcible sodomy, sexual assault, deviate sexual assault, first-degree statutory rape, or first-degree statutory sodomy of a victim age 12 or older. Data also came from 267 cases in Philadelphia that involved rape, involuntary deviant sexual intercourse, and sexual assault of victims age 12 or older that resulted in an arrest in 1997. The research examined the effect of victim, suspect, and case characteristics on charging decisions in three types of cases: those involving strangers, acquaintances or relatives, or intimate partners. Results revealed that the effect of victim characteristics, with one exception was confined to cases involving acquaintances and intimate partners. Prosecutors were less likely to file charges in these types of cases if questions existed about the victim’s character or behavior at the time of the incident. In contrast, the victim’s reputation and behavior did not affect charging in cases involving strangers. Prosecutors in those types of cases were more likely to file charges if the suspect used a gun or knife or if the victim was white. The analysis concluded that stereotypes of real rapes and genuine victims continued to influence the charging decision in at least some types of sexual assault cases. Tables, footnotes, case citation, and 65 references (Author abstract modified)

Date Published: September 1, 2001