Adult victims of sexual assault and barriers to justice

[7-2000] Book

E McDonald, “Rape myths as barriers to fair trial process: comparing adult rape trials with those in the Aotearoa Sexual Violence Court Pilot (2020)”, (online pdf), Canterbury University Press, 2020.


This book examines how and why rape trials can re-traumatise complainants. It examines 30 matters prosecuted over a five-year period (January 2010 to September 2015) as well as 10 rape trials from the New Zealand Sexual Violence Court Pilot (November 2017 to November 2018) in relation to adult acquaintance rape cases where the central issue in dispute is consent. The researchers have captured the type and content of questions asked during a rape trial that cause the most distress to complainants. These include: challenges to memory and inconsistencies based on a failure to recall peripheral details of the event; accusations of lying about the events; questions about complainants’ behaviour; questions that rely heavily on rape myths; and questions that suggest the complainants were responsible for what occurred. The authors document other trial practices that also cause unnecessary distress for complainants such as: being confronted (without warning) with exhibits, including photos of the location where the rape took place; or being questioned about (and having to navigate) text message schedules with a high volume of messages, multiple columns and numerical data and questions which required complainants to know and use “correct” terms for genitalia and sex acts, which they were not necessarily familiar with or comfortable using.

Acknowledgement: The work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-No Derivatives Licence CC BY-NC-ND