Abstract: Case-Fulfilling Prophecy: The Impact of Detectives' Manner of Questioning on Rape Survivors' Disclosure (Society for Social Work and Research 14th Annual Conference: Social Work Research: A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES)

11901 Case-Fulfilling Prophecy: The Impact of Detectives' Manner of Questioning on Rape Survivors' Disclosure

Friday, January 15, 2010: 8:00 AM
Pacific Concourse M (Hyatt Regency)
* noted as presenting author
Debra Patterson, PhD , Wayne State University, Assistant Professor, Detroit, MI
Purpose: Few reported rape cases are prosecuted with successful prosecution depending heavily on the information provided by survivors during the investigation. As such, the communication between the survivor and detective is paramount to the development of the case, and perhaps ultimately, its prosecutorial outcome. However, relatively little is known about rape survivors' experiences with detectives during the investigation. The limited research on this topic suggests that almost half of all survivors report negative experiences with law enforcement. It remains unknown why some survivors have negative experiences while others do not. It may be possible that detectives treat survivors differently in cases viewed as credible and subsequently prosecuted than cases viewed as lacking credibility and subsequently dropped. This study builds a theory that explains how the interactions between survivors and detectives affect the quality of the investigation itself.

Method: In-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted with 20 female adults about their experiences with detectives. Nine cases were prosecuted for rape charges while eleven were not. Analyses involved three grounded theory coding phases. First, the PI defined an action describing what people were doing or what was happening for every line of the interview, which allowed the analyst to detect processes that may be occurring during the interactions. Second, the analyst identified codes that made the most analytic sense of the data. Third, axial coding was conducted, which involves relating categories to subcategories to examine contingencies (Charmaz, 2006). Further, several procedures were undertaken to verify the credibility of the conclusions drawn.

Results: Detectives used a gentle manner of questioning (e.g., building rapport) with survivors who are typically viewed as credible by the criminal justice system. As a result, the survivors felt comfortable and regarded the detective as trustworthy and safe. Consequently, the detectives were able to elicit more information from the survivor, producing a more complete account of the rape, and subsequently a stronger case for prosecution. Conversely, detectives created an uncomfortable interview environment (e.g., victim blaming, “drilling” questions) for survivors typically viewed as having low credibility by the criminal justice system. As a result, the survivors felt intimidated and uncomfortable. Accordingly, the detectives were unable to elicit as much information, producing an incomplete account of the rape, and subsequently a weaker case for prosecution. Therefore, these cases had a lower chance of being prosecuted and were not charged.

Conclusions and Implications: This study found that the detectives' manner of questioning can lead to decreased opportunities of justice for some survivors. In addition, research has shown that survivors who receive negative reactions from the CJS are reluctant to seek further help for medical and mental health services, which could have long-term negative health consequences. Thus, preventing this negative treatment from occurring is important for rape survivors' well-being and increasing justice. Social workers are often housed in these social systems (e.g. police departments, rape crisis centers), providing opportunity for social workers to play an important role in improving survivors' experiences with detectives. The authors will elaborate on these implications for social work practice.