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A mixed methods approach for addressing issues of consent in sexual assaults.

BIRD, Thomas (2024) A mixed methods approach for addressing issues of consent in sexual assaults. Doctoral thesis, Staffordshire University.

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Abstract or description

The area of sexual offences and consent is an overly complex area, with governmental reviews and the police aiming to tackle why is there an increase in reports of sexual offences and rapes year on year. The End-to-End Rape Review states that it is imperative that research is carried out to reduce the rates of attrition in such cases (End to End Rape Review, 2021). According to the 2021 Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) there were 170,973 reported cases of sexual offences in the last year, with 63,136 of those being associated to rapes. The CSEW also highlights that although these cases are reported, only 6.1% of all sexual offence cases lead to a conviction. The Crown Prosecution Service state that roughly 50% of cases that make it to court, lead to an acquittal of the defendant and approximately 8% of cases lead to the victim retracting their statement. Sleath and Bull (2017) emphasise that some victims have a fear that they will not be believed as to the act that occurred, or that they did not give consent as it is usually their word against another.

The overall aim of this thesis was to explore the issues of consent in sexual offence cases and identify strategies to overcome these issues. A multi-disciplinary approach was used to develop strategies that may potentially address some issues with and surrounding consent. The first phase of the research was to utilise a survey to identify the views of the public on the issues that surround consent. The survey generated 290 useable responses from participants with sections spanning generic questions on consent and UK sexual offence statistics, rape myths, misconceptions surrounding consent and indicators of and influences on consent.

The results of the survey highlighted some key issues, firstly rape myth acceptance within society and secondly the concept of marital and acquaintance consent. The next phase of the research aimed to develop studies that could tackle the two key issues raised in the survey. These issues being rape myths associated with stereotyped beliefs about rape and the prevalence of sexual offences in society. These beliefs and misconceptions an individual own may appear in court proceedings and therefore influence the opinions regardless of the evidence being presented (Willmott, 2016). This study sought out to develop and validate a tool that could be used to measure the attitudes and views of potential jurors before they sit on a jury. A 42-item Pre-Jury Screening Tool (P-JST) was developed split into 4 subscale sections and analysed for reliability and validity. Each subscale presented participants with several statements and asked participants to what level they agree or disagree with each statement within the measure. The measure highlighted that some participants were considered extremely likely to endorse myths about rape and those participants whose country follow a threat and violence rape law rather than a consent-based rape law held strong negative beliefs.

According to the Crime Survey in England and Wales in 2019, it shows that the majority of sexual offences that occur are committed by people already known to the victims, roughly around 90%, with 56% of these being committed by partners or ex-partners. In these cases, the defence is that their DNA will be present because they are in a relationship or were in a prior relationship. To challenge this defence, the degradation of RNA in semen stains could potentially supply information regarding when a stain was deposited. The degradation pattern of a several semen specific mRNA genes and housekeeping genes were evaluated over different periods. These semen stains were extracted periodically and quantified using qPCR generating real-time levels of RNA which were compared to the levels of fresh semen. This study showed that different semen specific primers will degrade at different rates over several different time periods and therefore could be used to figure out the time since deposition of biological fluids.

Ultimately the research encompasses multi-disciplinary approaches to tackle issues with consent from a forensic stance using stain age prediction to corroborate testimonies, but also a legal view looking at the impact of bias and misconceptions on consent and rape cases. This research if taken to an operational level could potentially impact the attrition rates in sexual offence and rape cases by providing a tool to which negative beliefs could be highlighted. The research could also support ongoing policy changes surrounding consent such as the terminology used but more importantly this research could provide additional weight to the corroborations of testimonies regarding consent. Finally, the research highlighted in the thesis could affect how evidence recovery of biological samples are collected at crime scenes of a sexual offence nature with determining the age of a deposited stain becoming an additional priority along with body fluid identification.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Faculty: School of Law, Policing and Forensics > Forensic Sciences and Policing
Depositing User: Library STORE team
Date Deposited: 13 Feb 2024 13:43
Last Modified: 13 Feb 2024 13:45

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