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Emotional Women Are More Believable Rape Victims, Study Finds

A new study has found female rape victims who appear emotional are perceived as more credible than those who don't appear distressed.

The study by the University of Queensland School of Psychology looked at female adult rape complainants, and analysed 20 studies involving 3,128 participants who were criminal justice professionals, community members and mock jurors.

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“We found that rape complainants with distressed emotional demeanour were perceived as more credible than their emotionally-controlled counterparts and complainants who displayed other emotions," PhD candidate Faye Nitschke said

On average, only nine per cent of rape allegations made to police in Australia, the United States and Europe proceed to trial.

"In up to 88 per cent of rape cases, the defendant and complainant know each other -- so-called acquaintance or date rape -- and the complainant’s testimony about consent is critical.

“If the complainant is not perceived to be credible, these cases do not progress through the criminal justice system," Nitschke said.

Image: Getty Images

The study also found that whether the person was a criminal justice professional or a prospective juror did not moderate the effect size estimate.

Executive Officer of Rape & Domestic Violence Services Australia, Karen Willis OAM says these findings are not surprising.

“What we know is that when someone experiences sexual violence there will be a trauma impact," Willis told 10 daily.

"Particularly when someone does make a complaint, they have to repeat the story in great detail to forensic specialists, and then to detectives and then in court and go over it again and again, and eventually people just shut down.

"They can get to the point where they’re on auto-pilot. And then that’s held against them."

READ MORE: #WhyIDidntReport: Sexual Assault Survivors Share Their Stories

Poor complainant credibility is associated with case attrition, and it is important to note that it is not just a victim's emotional response that is a contributing factor to this.

"We know that, say, if you’ve got a young, reasonably pretty, white middle-class articulate well educated female, you will have a much better chance of a conviction than if you had an Aboriginal middle-aged woman who may have English have as a second language and be scared because she’s unfamiliar with a court environment that seems so alien to her," Willis said.

Emotional response is just one part of whether a victim can appear credible to criminal justice professionals and jurors. Photo: GETTY

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The team who conducted the study said there needs to be more effective methods for reducing reliance on emotional demeanour as a measure of credibility.

“Emotional demeanour is not a reliable indicator of honesty," Nitschke said.

"Addressing misperceptions about a complainant’s level of emotionality should be a priority.”

READ MORE: How Young Is Too Young To Teach Kids About Sexual Assault?

Willis says those in the criminal justice system should be equally examining the credibility of alleged offenders.

"The victim is judged beginning to end: what did they wear? What did they do before, what did they do after?

How about judging the credibility of the offender as well?"

Feature Image: GETTY