Thursday, November 19, 2020
Mary Graw Leary, Is the #MeToo Movement for Real? Implications for Juror's Biases in Sexual Assault Cases, 81 Louisiana L. Rev. 1 (2020)
For decades the conventional wisdom asserted that law enforcement, the judiciary, and jurors were skeptical of claims of sexual violence and largely unsympathetic to the plight of victims. Many high profile cases highlighted this reality. These include the acquittal of R. Kelly for rape despite some video evidence, the sentencing of Brock Turner to less than a year incarceration for sexual assault of an unconscious woman, and the guilty plea of Jeffrey Epstein to minor charges despite significant evidence of the sex trafficking of minors. This perception of a lack of justice for sexual violence victims is also generally supported by the documented attrition rates of sexual violence cases as they progress through the criminal justice system. Scholars suggest many reasons for this bias against sex crime victims including victim blaming, discrimination, a desire to not want to believe the abuse occurred, stereotypes of the victims, acceptance of the rape myth, or the perceived credibility of the offenders.
In October of 2017, a public social movement against sexual harassment and sexual assault emerged on the national level (although it previously existed), entitled the “Me Too Movement.” This movement awakened a revelation in the United States of the prevalence of the sexual harassment and abuse experienced by women. By underscoring the frequency with which women are assaulted, the movement forced a reluctant public to face the breadth of the problem and the trauma experienced by these women.
A body of research exists regarding the lack of sympathy of jurors to victims of sexual violence. A new body of research is emerging documenting the effect of the #Me Too Movement on societal perceptions of rape and other forms of sexual violence. This article examines the latter focusing on the effect the movement could have on contemporary societal norms regarding sexual assault. It explores whether these effects may alter previously accepted assumptions regarding jurors, perhaps suggesting a shift not only in public perception, but jury perception of sexual violence. It argues that the Movement has significant potential to ameliorate the attrition problem in sexual assault cases, but not in expected ways. For this positive change to occur, it requires work of prosecutors and judges in these trials rethink evidence and jury selection and incorporate some of the lessons learned.