Questioning Survivors of Sexual Assault: Overcoming Implicit Bias




Fairley-Beam, Iris

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Despite legal reforms in Canada in the 80’s and 90’s that aimed to increase protection of sexual assault survivors and decrease bias in the justice system’s handling of their cases, underreporting has largely persisted. Real and perceived police attitudes may contribute to this lack of reporting, as they are oftentimes the first point of contact a survivor has with the criminal justice system. Research has found that many police officers have an implicit bias against survivors of sexual assault, questioning them as one might expect them to question a suspect, with suspicion and skepticism. This project identifies three main contributing factors to officer’s implicit bias: a lack of understanding of current Canadian sexual assault laws, misinformation about how trauma affects behaviour and memory, and police training that implicitly or explicitly promotes the belief in rape myths. A multi-faceted approach to combatting implicit bias with regards to sexual assault is outlined, which incorporates training and education (including trauma-informed interviewing), structural guidelines and procedures to inhibit implicit bias, and some advice from Virtue Ethics and practical wisdom.



sexual assault, sexualized violence, implicit bias, police attitudes, practical wisdom, trauma-informed, trauma