'She Said, He Said' - Credibility and Outcome in Sexual Harassment
Women’s Studies International Forum, pp. 336-344, 2008
Posted: 8 Jul 2009 Last revised: 28 Sep 2018
Date Written: 2008
Feminist research and theory show how substance and process of law are substantially affected by its patriarchal context. Accordingly, a number of Australian studies have identified how gendered myths and other factors impact on the assessment of victim credibility in sexual assault hearings. In this article we look at sexual harassment cases in Australia lodged under the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act (SDA) between 2000 and 2006 and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Discrimination Act from 2001 to 2005 to see if similar variables to those in rape cases play a role in the perception of witness believability. We find that credibility is more likely to correlate with being Anglo, very young, a rational (masculine) demeanor/ presentation in giving evidence, corroborative witnesses and legal representation. In addition, respondents' counsel in federal harassment hearings or respondents themselves in correspondence to the ACT Commissioner, just as defence barristers in rape trials, attempt to make the victim appear as an incredible witness through highlighting evidentiary inconsistencies and/or delayed reporting. Also evidence about sexual history or behavior that evokes an image of provocation may be adduced.We identify a varied response to these myths and to measurement of credibility by the individual ‘gatekeepers’ - the Federal Magistrates, judges and the ACT Discrimination Commissioner.
Keywords: Feminist, SDA, rape
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