THE EFFECTS OF BANNING THE WORD “RAPE” FROM A RAPE TRIAL

Open Access
Author:
Durant, Dallas Nicolle
Graduate Program:
Psychology
Degree:
Master of Science
Document Type:
Master Thesis
Date of Defense:
June 01, 2010
Committee Members:
  • Stephanie A Shields, Thesis Advisor
Keywords:
  • language
  • evidence
  • trial
  • victim
  • rape
  • court
Abstract:
In 2006, a U.S. District Court Judge banned the word “rape” from a rape trial. This study examined the effects of this language ban on juror decision making. Participants read one of four brief trial summaries of a rape case (including or excluding the word “rape” and strong or weak evidence against the defendant), rendered a verdict, rated the defendant’s level of guilt, and answered additional questions. An ANOVA revealed a significant interaction, such that language did not matter in strong evidence cases, but language did matter in weak evidence cases. Importantly, participants exposed to the word “rape” distinguished between strong and weak cases—a finding that refutes the Judge’s assumption that the word “rape” is inflammatory and impairs jurors’ abilities to accurately evaluate the evidence. Legal implications are discussed, and I conclude that rape victims should be allowed to use their own words when testifying on the witness stand.