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Journal Article


King LL, Bostaph LMG. J. Interpers. Violence 2023; ePub(ePub): ePub.


(Copyright © 2023, SAGE Publishing)






Despite the prevalence and severity of sexual violence, case attrition has been identified as a significant issue. Of the cases that are reported to police, only a small portion result in arrest, prosecution, or conviction. Research has revealed that much of this attrition occurs early in the process and that a number of theoretically supported legal (e.g., physical evidence, victim participation) and extralegal (e.g., demographics, victim credibility) factors influence how and whether a case progresses through the criminal justice system. However, few researchers have directly examined the impact of officer doubt on case processing. Whereas legal and extralegal factors represent case characteristics, doubt represents officer cognition about these characteristics. These perceptions can affect how victims are treated, how police investigate the case, and ultimately, the case's progression through the system. A random sample of sexual assault reports from one police department in a medium-sized jurisdiction in the western U.S. was drawn to examine the expression of officer doubt, as well as its impact on victim participation, arrest, and referral for prosecution while controlling for relevant legal and extralegal factors. The findings suggest that officer doubt is an important consideration in sexual assault case processing, independent of other legal and extralegal factors, and that it significantly impacts the likelihood of arrest and referral for prosecution. Consistent with previous research, police decision-making was also impacted by certain legal factors. Victim participation was not directly affected by officer doubt but it was predicted by extralegal factors. Implications for future sexual assault research and practitioner training are discussed.

Language: en


sexual assault; reporting/disclosure; support seeking


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