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Prosecuting Sexual Assault: A Comparison of Charging Decisions in Sexual Assault Cases Involving Strangers, Acquaintances, and Intimate Partners (From Violence Against Women and Family Violence: Developments in Research, Practice, and Policy, 2004, Bonnie Fisher, ed. -- See NCJ-199701)

NCJ Number
Date Published
10 pages
This study examined the effect of victim, suspect, and case characteristics on prosecutors' charging decisions in three types of sexual assault cases: those that involved strangers, acquaintances, and intimate partners.
The study analyzed data on sexual assaults that resulted in arrests in Kansas City (n=259 cases) and Philadelphia (n=267 cases). Victim characteristics were subdivided into background factors (gender, race, and age) and "blame and believability" factors, which are characteristics of the victim that might cause criminal justice officials to blame the victim and/or question her credibility. The researchers controlled for whether the victim physically resisted her attacker or made a prompt report to the police, whether the victim's "moral character" was in question, and whether the victim engaged in any type of risk-taking activity at the time of the incident. The suspect's age, race, and prior criminal record were included in the analysis. The study used logistic regression to model the relationship between victim, suspect, and case characteristics and the decision to file charges in the sexual assault cases. In both jurisdictions approximately half of the sexual assault cases that resulted in an arrest were prosecuted. The decision to charge was based on a combination of victim, suspect, and case characteristics. Prosecutors were more likely to file charges if there was physical evidence to connect the suspect to the crime, if the suspect had a prior criminal record, and if there were no questions about the victim's character or behavior at the time of the incident. The relationship between the victim and the suspect had no effect on the decision to charge. The presence of physical evidence to connect the suspect to the crime had a strong and statistically significant effect on charging in all three types of cases, but it had a more pronounced effect in cases that involved strangers than in cases that involved acquaintances or relatives. Implications of the findings are drawn for researchers and for practitioners. 1 exhibit and 15 references

Date Published: January 1, 2004