Generic prejudice and the presumption of guilt in sex abuse trials

Law Hum Behav. 1997 Feb;21(1):5-25. doi: 10.1023/a:1024861925699.


In 25 Canadian criminal trials involving charges of sexual abuse, 849 prospective jurors were asked under oath whether they could hear the evidence, follow the judge's instructions on the law, and decide the case with a fair and impartial mind. Knowing only the nature of the charges against the accused, on average 36% of the jurors stated that they could not be impartial. Some jurors explained that they themselves had been victims of abuse, others expressed fears for children, while others stated simply that they could not set aside a presumption of guilt. These findings from real trials are consistent with a body of social science literature about attitudes toward sexual abuse and sexual assault charges. The article distinguishes between prejudices arising from specific pretrial publicity and generic prejudices that cause prejudgments of the case of any defendant perceived as belonging to a general class of defendants who likely are guilty of the crime(s) charged.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Canada
  • Child
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / psychology
  • Family / psychology
  • Female
  • Guilt*
  • Humans
  • Incest / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Incest / psychology
  • Male
  • Peer Group
  • Prejudice*
  • Rape / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Rape / psychology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires