Mock Juror Perception of Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Testimony

By Wasarhaley, Nesa E.; Simcic, Theresa A. et al. | Violence and Victims, July 1, 2012 | Go to article overview
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Mock Juror Perception of Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Testimony


Wasarhaley, Nesa E., Simcic, Theresa A., Golding, Jonathan M., Violence and Victims


The perception of a sexual assault nurse examiner's (SANE) testimony in a criminal rape trial was investigated. Men and women undergraduates (N = 138) read a fictional criminal trial summary of a rape case in which medical testimony from a SANE or a registered nurse (RN) was presented, or no medical testimony was presented. Results indicated that mock jurors were more likely to render guilty verdicts when a SANE testified than when an RN testified, and this relationship was fully mediated by perceived credibility of the nurse as well as provictim perceptions. Results are discussed in terms of the impact of SANE involvement in legal proceedings.

Keywords: rape; juries; victimization; adjudication; expert testimony; sexual assault nurse examiner

One of every six women in the United States has been a victim of a completed or attempted rape at some point in her life (Tjaden & Thoennes, 2006). Yet, only about one third of female rape victims receive medical treatment (Tjaden & Thoennes, 2006) and most cases have not been prosecuted by the criminal justice system (Campbell, Patterson, & Lichty, 2005). Within the past 40 years, however, sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) programs have become a widespread resource for providing postassault medical care (Campbell et al., 2005). Certified SANEs are registered nurses (RNs) who have significant additional training in examining sexual assault victims compared to a typical RN (Littel, 2001). Not only can SANE programs better address the needs of sexual assault victims than emergency departments (EDs) without SANE programs (Plichta, Clements, & Houseman, 2007) but they also serve as a valuable resource for legal personnel in the investigation of sexual assaults. SANE examinations have been linked with more effective investigations and more prosecutions for sexual assault cases (Crandall & Helitzer, 2003; Lewis-O'Connor, 2009; McGregor, Du Mont, & Myhr, 2002). Although SANEs have shown to be important resources to criminal justice professionals, it is unclear how jurors in sexual assault cases perceive SANE testimony. Thus, the purpose of this study is to determine juror perceptions of SANE testimony during a rape trial.

SANE programs have influenced the prosecution of sexual assault cases. Sexual assaults are one of the most underreported crimes. According to the National Violence Against Women survey, approximately 19% of women who reported being raped after they turned 18 reported the incident to police (rape was defined as vaginal, oral, or anal intercourse without the victim's consent; Tjaden & Thoennes, 2006). According to the victims surveyed, only 12% of the reported incidents were actually prosecuted (Tjaden & Thoennes, 2006). A quasi-experimental study of criminal justice system outcomes for sexual assault cases in a Midwestern community pre- and post-SANE implementation indicated that the SANE program positively affected prosecution outcomes of such cases. Specifically, more cases progressed to a higher level in the criminal justice system (i.e., trials) after SANE program implementation than before (Campbell, Patterson, & Bybee, 2012). Researchers have also reported that the use of evidence collected by SANEs increases the number of plea bargains. Once the defendant is presented with the physical evidence collected by the SANE, he may opt for a lesser charge rather than proceed with a trial (Campbell et al., 2012; Campbell et al., 2005; Littel, 2001).

If a sexual assault case goes to trial, SANEs can be called on to provide factual or expert witness testimony (Ledray & Barry, 1998). SANEs are thus a unique resource in this sense because they receive training in providing courtroom testimony, whereas other medical professionals do not. In fact, some doctors and nurses have been hesitant to testify in court for fear of their qualifications being contested (Campbell et al., 2005; Littel, 2001). However, prosecutors perceive SANEs as credible witnesses due to their extensive experience and proficiency in conducting evidentiary exams (Ledray, 1992; Littel, 2001).

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