Acquaintance rape: reforming trial process

Workshops bringing together legal professionals, policy makers and community workers to discuss research on reforming trial process in adult acquaintance rape cases.

About the project

A four-year research programme examining rape trials in cases of adult acquaintance rape is nearly complete. It has looked in-depth at issues complainants say are the worst aspects of giving evidence, including being questioned, victim-blaming attitudes, and being disbelieved about not consenting to sex. Analysis of how the current evidential and procedural rules are working in practice has also been undertaken. The research is based on 30 recent trials and brings to light several aspects of the trial process that could be changed to improve adult complainants’ experience of going to court.

A parallel project is assessing aspects of the trial process in the current pilot of a specialist court for sexual offences. This work will provide information about the degree to which a specialist list court improves the trial experience for adult complainants.

The aims of both pieces of research are to document and improve current processes, with a focus on fair trial imperatives for both complainants and defendants.

To develop robust and workable reforms to law and procedures, two workshops will be run (in Wellington and Auckland) to discuss draft proposals. The workshops will bring together people with experience in the prosecution of sexual offending – including judges, police, defence counsel, victim advocates and legal and social science researchers. Funding from the Borrin Foundation supports these two workshops, as well as the attendance of two overseas experts: Professor Vanessa Munro and Associate Professor Julia Quilter.

Grant amount

$8,180 over 2019. This is a co-funded project with the New Zealand Law Foundation, which is contributing the same amount.

About the research team

The two projects that will be workshopped have been undertaken by Elisabeth McDonald (Canterbury) and Paulette Benton-Greig (Waikato). Both have extensive experience and publications in the area of sexual violence and the criminal justice system. They are supported by independent specialist researchers Sandra Dickson and Rachel Souness.

Final report

Professor Elisabeth McDonald published the OpenAccess book Rape Myths as Barriers to Fair Trial Process: Comparing adult rape trials with those in the Aotearoa Sexual Violence Court Pilot from this work.

Watch Elisabeth’s University of Canterbury public talk: A cross-examination of rape myths.

Contact person

Elisabeth McDonald MNZM

Professor of Law, University of Canterbury

“Good data is crucial to creating an accurate picture of sexual violence in New Zealand. Researchers and policy makers need good data to understand the problem of sexual violence and propose solutions.”

– New Zealand Law Commission The Justice Response to Victims of Sexual Violence (NZLC, R 136, 2015) at [11.47].