Women, men view and judge childhood sexual abuses cases differently

Viewers of "Ally McBeal" know that the male and female attorneys depicted on the popular television "dramedy" often want to try cases quite differently. While some of the legal arguments employed on the show are far-fetched, the idea that men and women can view cases from opposite viewpoints isn't.

A new study by University of Washington researchers, to be presented later this week at the American Psychological Society's annual meeting in Denver, indicates that men and women view sexual abuse cases differently and could be poles apart in rendering an actual verdict. In addition, a woman's familiarity with sexual and physical abuse and repressed memories of such abuse influences how she might judge a case. The same knowledge is not predictive for men.

The study, headed by Amy Tsai, an attorney and UW psychology doctoral student, will be presented at a poster session beginning at noon Saturday in Adam's Mark Hotel Denver. Tsai's collaborators were Sarah Morsbach, a research assistant, and Elizabeth Loftus, a UW psychology professor and adjunct professor of law. The study also is noteworthy because it is among the first to examine repressed memory in a case involving a crime other than sexual abuse.

"Men and women have different attitudes toward sexual abuse, but seem to have the same attitude about physical abuse," said Tsai. "The sexual nature of the crime is influencing verdicts."

In this mock juror study, 85 subjects were asked to weigh the evidence and render a verdict in either a childhood physical or sexual abuse case based on an actual civil complaint. Evidence was presented in concise, neutral summaries of statements made by a female plaintiff and male defendant. The summaries of the two cases were identical except for two points. In one version the defendant was accused of physical abuse while in the other the defendant was being tried for sexual abuse. Also in half of each version the plaintiff

Contact: Joel Schwarz
University of Washington

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