PIER Public Lecture Series 2020-21: Is the jury out on sexual history evidence?

Events — Talk Online
9 February 2022, 17:30

‘Is the jury out on sexual history evidence?’

Evidence of a rape victim’s sexual history is restricted in English and Welsh trials as it is frequently used to incorrectly assert that: i) women who have previously consented to sex are more likely to consent in future, and ii) women considered ‘promiscuous’ are not credible witnesses (Farrell, 2017). However research demonstrates that restrictions are routinely ignored, meaning such evidence remains prevalent (Smith, 2018), contradicting the law and causing victims to describe trial as ‘a second rape’ (McGlynn, 2017).

Yet despite high profile calls for reform, there is a limited evidence-base on whether sexual history evidence adversely impacts on the jury, with just two studies available internationally (Catton, 1975 [Canada]; Schuller, 2002 [US]) which were limited in scope. This PhD was therefore the first UK research to examine the impact of sexual history evidence on juries and the first worldwide to explore the content jury deliberations in relation to sexual history.

As research with ‘real’ juries is prohibited, this thesis draws on 18 mock jury simulations, using volunteer community participants to explore the impact of previous sexual behaviour with the defendant, on mock juror deliberations. Findings showed continued endorsement of prejudicial ideas about sexual history, tying closely to heteronormative ideals and speculation of complainant credibility. 

Charlotte Herriott is a Lecturer in Criminology and Policing at ARU.  Her research focus is on justice responses to sexual violence in England and Wales.  She is now also working alongside colleagues at the VFI, comparing civilian versus service justice system responses to sexual victimisation and examining barriers to reporting sexual violence in the military context

‘Is the jury out on sexual history evidence?'
‘Is the jury out on sexual history evidence?'

Event contact: catherine.pearson2@aru.ac.uk