Comparative studies of sexual assaults in Canada and in Hong Kong

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Rape / Sexual Assaults
Cross-Cultural Comparisons
Legal Issues
(Mock) Jury
Rape Myth Acceptance
Gender Roles

Although criminal law involving sexual offence has undergone many legal reforms in both Canada and Hong Kong, there remain numerous socio-cultural factors that maintain the difficulty of achieving successful prosecutions for these offences. This dissertation includes two comparative studies that explore complainant-specific factors that may affect the perception of adult female complainants in real (Study 1) and simulated (Study 2) sexual assault cases. Study 1 reviewed 220 archival rape cases in Canada (n = 119) and Hong Kong (n = 101) to explore how the complainant’s relationship with the accused, her sexual history, her substance use before the incident, and her sexual initiation may be associated with the proposal of the “mistaken belief” defence and judicial outcomes. Because accused in Canada have to take “reasonable steps” to ascertain consent, it was expected that the defence would be proposed and accepted less often in Canada than in Hong Kong, and more acquittals would be rendered in Hong Kong than in Canada based on this defence. Univariate analyses revealed that cases that involved acquaintances or intoxicated parties, or a complainant who was sexually provocative or experienced, were associated with increased acceptance of this defence tactic by the court, and increased acquittal of the accused, particularly in Hong Kong. Because sexual assaults were found to be less successfully prosecuted when the complainant engaged in acts that may be perceived as violating gender norms, Study 2 explored how (mock) jurors’ gender and cultural beliefs, and the complainant’s drunken and/or sexually provocative behaviours, may affect legal outcomes. Using an online survey program, 467 participants (236 from Canada and 231 from Hong Kong) evaluated a simulated sexual assault case. Results suggest that Hong Kong and male participants were more likely to endorse rape myths and patriarchal beliefs than Canadian and female participants. The former groups were also more likely to perceive the complainant as having violated gender norms and to hold her more accountable for the assault. By comparing the results from Canada and Hong Kong within each study, this research aims to determine whether cultural influences shape the judicial outcomes of sexual assault cases, and to help inform legislators in policy-making.

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J. Don Read
Arts & Social Sciences: Department of Psychology
Thesis type: 
(Dissertation) Ph.D.