News Item

February 2020

"Rape Myths as Barriers to Fair Trial Process" - important new publication on Rape Trial research

Professor Elisabeth McDonald’s book “Rape Myths as Barriers to Fair Trial Process: Comparing adult rape trials with those of the Aotearoa Sexual Violence Court Pilot” was launched at her public talk “A cross-examination of rape myths”, on 26th Feb at University of Canterbury.

The book contains the findings of four years of research that compares the trial process in 30 adult rape cases from 2010 to 2015 (in which the defence at trial was consent) with 10 cases from the Sexual Violence Court Pilot heard in 2018.

The aim of the research was to find out at which points in the questioning process the complainant displayed heightened emotionality, including distress, and why cross-examination (in particular) is so resistant to reform measures.

Researchers also considered the extent to which the current rules of evidence and procedure are applied appropriately and consistently, and identified examples of best practice in order to develop proposals for changes to law and process.

Despite decades of targeted law reform, adult complainants still report that the process of being a witness is a significant point of re-victimisation.

According to Professor Vanessa Munro (University of Warwick, UK) and Associate Professor Julia Quilter (University of Wollongong, Australia, who wrote the foreword:

This book is detailed in its analysis, rich in its insights and far-reaching in its implications. It should be read by anyone involved in, or concerned about, the handling of sexual violence allegations in contemporary criminal justice systems, in and beyond Aotearoa New Zealand – whether as a judicial officer, legal practitioner, government policy officer or academic. Elisabeth’s work is absolutely essential if we are to improve the experience of complainants in rape trials – and to make a dent in the ‘brutal old days’ that are, unfortunately, still with us.”

The book makes an important contribution to our understanding of how victims of sexual offending are impacted by the trial process.

Now available free online:

A digital version of the book – 586 pages

About the book and its authors

Professor McDonald’s public talk will be available on the UC Connect YouTube channel by 4th March

The Law Foundation supported this publication by contributing $23,800 towards research for the book. A further $16,355 was contributed in a co-funding arrangement with the Michael and Suzanne Borrin Foundation to bring international experts to workshops where researchers presented their findings and reform proposals.


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