Vetting jurors in rape cases could lead to more convictions.
That’s the outcome of new research by a University of Huddersfield PhD student, who recreated trials using authentic evidence from real-life cases to show how bias affects the nature of rape cases and the final verdicts.
Now Dominic Willmott is looking to publish his findings in a leading US journal of forensics and criminology, further strengthening his claims that an American form of vetting jurors to identify potential bias against rape victims could be introduced in the UK.
The completion of three years of research into his PhD, entitled “An Examination of the Relationship between Juror Attitudes, Psychological Constructs and Verdict Decisions within Rape Trials”, underlines shocking figures released by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) that reveal just one in ten rape victims come forward.
Dominic, 27, originally from Nottingham, has been a student in Huddersfield since 2008. A Doctoral Researcher in Psychology, he says his research has shown how too many people cling to commonly-held inaccurate views of rape, its complainants and defendants.
A major misconception is that rape is often committed in dark alleys by men against strangers. In fact that scenario only relates to 10% of attacks.
“Ninety per cent of rapes are committed by someone the victim knows, but that is not a rape stereotype some people recognise,” said Dominic. “Often there are no witnesses and it comes down to one person’s word against another’s.”
To prove his theory Dominic ran a series of nine simulated trials using real barristers and judges and a cross-section of Huddersfield people aged 18-70. He presented an equal amount of evidence both for and against victim and defendant. He expected a 50/50 split between guilty and not guilty and was surprised when it did not occur.
“We got nine not guilty verdicts, which shows the scale of bias. In terms of showing how bias can affect the verdict we found what I hoped we would find.”
The American system of vetting jurors looks at personality traits such as egocentricity, empathy, and interpersonal manipulation, in which extroverted people can apply pressure or intimidate others to follow their opinion.
Figures for 2013 show there were around 15,000 allegations of rape made to police. Of these just over 3,000 made it to court, and around 1,000 people were convicted. Dominic says his research proves that rape misacceptance bias is a significant factor.
“People’s views are so deeply rooted that simple training will not eradicate it,” he added.