Lack Of Pretrial Preparation May Discourage Rape Reportings, Study Finds

November 24, 1997

ATHENS, Ohio -- A landmark study by an Ohio University researcher suggests that most prosecutors offer little preparation to rape survivors who agree to testify in criminal proceedings, a problem that may make the criminal justice process more traumatic for survivors and actually discourage women from reporting rapes.

"In spite of the fact that prosecutors have a range of preparation styles to draw from, many women go into court without a lot of knowledge of the process," said Amanda Konradi, assistant professor of sociology at Ohio University and author of the study. "Some haven't even met the prosecuting attorney. That makes for rocky going."

Konradi, herself a rape survivor who participated in the successful conviction of her attackers, has conducted some of the first documented research into rape survivors' preparation for court proceedings. Konradi interviewed 60 rape survivors from around the country about their courtroom experiences and included 32 who actually testified at pretrial or trial proceedings in her recently published analysis.

Instructions from prosecutors are more common before trial than prior to earlier hearings at which women usually testify for the first time, she said. Konradi found that prosecutors tend to provide instructions that can be conveyed quickly and without much interaction before preliminary hearings on topics such as what to wear, the order of various aspects of the proceedings and how to react emotionally.

Other, more time-consuming preparation techniques that study participants viewed as more helpful, such as giving a tour of the courtroom to point out where various players in the process will be seated or going over testimony, are much more rare, Konradi said. Prosecutors tend to save those preparation techniques for trial.

Much of the feedback that prosecutors do provide seems to fit stereotypes related to rape, Konradi said. For example, one suggestion cited in the study was to dress conservatively. Some of the younger women Konradi interviewed said they were told to dress in child-like clothing. "(The prosecutor) told me I should wear a silly dress because that's what 16-year-olds do," one survivor told Konradi, adding, "He said it should be frilly and maybe flowery."

Prosecutors perpetuate another stereotype -- that rape victims are helpless -- by telling survivors it's all right to cry on the stand but not OK to get angry, Konradi said. The thinking, she said, is that "victims cry, liars get angry."

"Men who rape women victimize them by assaulting them in a very personal, physical way," Konradi said. "Legal personnel who pursue these assailants also can victimize women by ignoring the difficulties of participating in an alien situation and behaving in a manner that is consistent with stereotypes."

Konradi notes that the theory of second assault by the criminal justice system is widely known and may discourage women from reporting rapes. "Rape survivors may not report because they have made a rational assessment about the costs of involvement in the criminal justice process and not because they are uninformed about what legally constitutes rape or are severely traumatized," she said. "A key to increasing the reporting of rape would be altering practices that lead to perceptions and experiences of unfairness on the part of rape survivors."

Some of the women Konradi interviewed for the study said they were satisfied with their precourt preparation. In these cases, some of the more helpful preparation techniques utilized by prosecutors included giving the witness mock questions; sharing police files and court transcripts related to the case; relaying information about the defense attorney's courtroom demeanor; and having the witness recite some or all of her story before going to court.

"If rape survivors perceive that they will be treated with dignity and respect and be given a chance to state their case, they will be willing to involve themselves with the criminal justice system," Konradi said.

Konradi's research appeared in a recent issue of the American Bar Foundation journal Law and Social Inquiry. It was funded in part by the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation and the social science division of the University of California-Santa Cruz.

Konradi plans to include these findings and others from her interviews of rape survivors in an upcoming book. She also hopes her research prompts others to think about and work to improve how rape survivors are treated by the justice system.

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Contact: Amanda Konradi, 614-593-0823; akonradi@ohiou.edu.
Written by Mary Alice Casey, 614-593-1890; caseym@ohiou.edu.

Ohio University

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