Impacts of Victim Resistance and Type of Assault on Legal Decision-Making in Child Sexual Assault

Kyle P. Rawn, Mary M. Levi, Andrea M. Pals, Holly Huber, Jonathan M. Golding

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Prior studies have examined the effects of victim resistance and type of assault (attempted or completed) on perceptions of adult rape cases. However, research has not yet tested whether these findings extend to verdicts rendered in child rape cases, nor has research focused on how perceptions of victim and defendant characteristics in child rape cases may contribute to legal decision-making. In the present study, a 2 (attempted or completed sexual assault) x 3 (victim resistance: verbal-only, verbal with outside interruption, or physical) x 2 (participant sex) between-participant design was used to assess legal decision-making involving a hypothetical criminal case of child rape, with a six-year-old female victim and a 30-year-old male perpetrator. Three-hundred and thirty-five participants read a criminal trial summary and answered questions about the trial, the victim, and the defendant. Results revealed that: (a) when a victim physically resisted, compared to verbally resisted, more guilty judgments were rendered, (b) when the victim physically resisted, higher ratings for aggregated factors for Victim Credibility and Negative Perceptions of the Defendant were given, leading to more guilty verdicts, and (c) female participants were more likely than male participants to render a guilty verdict. No differences in verdict rendered between the verbal with interruption (e.g., knocking on door) and verbal-only conditions were found, nor did type of assault lead to differences in verdict rendered. Implications for child sexual assault cases and the courtroom, as well as implications for practitioners, are provided.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)418-437
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Child Sexual Abuse
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The author(s) reported there is no funding associated with the work featured in this article.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 Taylor & Francis.


  • Child victim
  • hypothetical criminal case
  • legal decision-making
  • rape
  • sexual assault

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


Dive into the research topics of 'Impacts of Victim Resistance and Type of Assault on Legal Decision-Making in Child Sexual Assault'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this