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Consistency and credibility of intimate partner abuse reports: An examination of pathological or generalisable phenomena

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(Dissertation) Ph.D.
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Despite mixed research findings, there remains a pervasive belief in the legal community that testimonial inconsistencies are detrimental to eyewitness, complainant, and defendant credibility generally, and to domestic violence complainants in particular. Studied extensively in other contexts, little research has examined consistency of reports of intimate partner abuse (IPA) victimization over time and its role in perceived credibility. The first study of this dissertation compared consistency of reports of IPA victimization with consistency of everyday autobiographical memory event prevalence. Study 1 participants (n = 276) completed two calendar-based online surveys approximately six weeks apart. Participants who self-identified as experiencing psychological, physical, or sexual abuse in a romantic relationship (n = 138) completed questions assessing IPA victimization and participation in leisure activities (LA). A matched sample of 138 comparison participants completed only the LA questions. Few differences between report consistency of abusive experiences and everyday memory events were found. When significant effects were observed, results demonstrated differences between categories of autobiographical memory events within but not between IPA and LA reports. The second study investigated whether IPA allegations are received with scepticism, and if so, why. Study 2 participants (n = 374) evaluated the effectiveness of a ‘complainant’ reporting on IPA victimization or LA participation during two interviews. Complainant gender and consistency of reports across repeated interviews were manipulated. Results demonstrated that consistent complainants were evaluated more favourably than were inconsistent complainants, as were LA compared with IPA complainants. Further analyses supported the role of social categorization in evaluations of complainant effectiveness, demonstrating that when a complainant is seen as a member of one's own group, credibility is enhanced: Compared to complainants reporting on IPA victimization, LA ‘complainants’ were judged to be more similar and more likely to belong to the same group as participants which was associated with more positive evaluations of LA than IPA complainant effectiveness. Overall, findings suggest that although actual differences in consistency of event prevalence are few, reports of IPA victimization are received with greater scepticism than reports of everyday events. Such prejudice may contribute to disbelief of IPA allegations, potentially precluding appropriate legal intervention.
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