Prosecuting intimate partner sexual violence: reforming trial processes

Developing a better trial process for victims/survivors of partner rape by assessing current practices

About the project

Going to court can be very stressful for victims/survivors of rape. There is little research on how women who are also victims of family violence experience the trial process in rape cases.  

This study will use case materials from 20 trials to look at what the process of giving evidence about both rape and family violence is like for complainants. We are particularly interested in how stereotypes about family violence and rape myths work together in the same trial. We also aim to investigate the impact at trial of the types of vulnerabilities – such as head injuries, addictions and socio-economic disadvantage – that these victims/survivors may be suffering from.  

We will use this information to consider what changes could be made to the trial process and the rules of evidence to improve the court experience for victims/survivors of intimate partner sexual violence.    

“This study of recent jury trials offers a unique and vital opportunity to understand how rape mythology operates in partner rape cases, and the interaction of those misconceptions with the expectations of the behaviour of victims/survivors of family violence.”
– Elisabeth McDonald, Professor of Law, University of Canterbury

Grant amount

$56,000 over two years.

About the research team

Elisabeth McDonald and Paulette Benton-Greig are legal researchers with lengthy experience working in the areas of sexual and family violence. They are currently working together on two related projects on trial processes in acquaintance rape cases (funded by a Marsden grant) and the Sexual Violence Court Pilot (funded by the Law Foundation). They will be working on this project with independent specialist researchers Sandra Dickson and Rachel Souness.

Contact person

Elisabeth McDonald  

Professor of Law, University of Canterbury  

elisabeth.mcdonald@canterbury.ac.nz