Coitus and Consequences in the Legal System: An Experimental Study

24 Pages Posted: 13 Feb 2016

See all articles by Joni Hersch

Joni Hersch

Vanderbilt University - Law School; IZA Institute of Labor Economics; Vanderbilt University - Owen Graduate School of Management; Vanderbilt University - College of Arts and Science - Department of Economics

Beverly I. Moran

Vanderbilt University - Law School

Date Written: February 11, 2016

Abstract

Scholars have found that men who physically harm their intimate partners receive less punishment than men who harm strangers. In other words, in the criminal setting, coitus has consequences. In particular, for female victims, the consequence is often a legal system that offers little or no protection. Until the experimental study presented here, no one has asked whether the same is true in civil actions.

This original experimental survey, fielded on eight hundred participants, provides the first-ever evidence on whether legal decision makers hold sexual activity against females in civil settings. Participants received four scenarios — a homicide, a workplace sexual harassment, a long-term business relationship, and a short-term joint venture — with randomized information about prior sexual activity between the parties. As in the criminal setting, the results show that the taint of a sexual relationship hurts women, even in civil lawsuits. Yet, the results also show that evidence of sexual activity did not hurt the female complainant in the sexual harassment scenario and it actually increased the male killer’s liability in the homicide scenario. The results also suggested that male jurors may be more influenced by evidence of a female’s sexual activity than are female jurors. Based on these findings, attorneys might fear less that a “nuts and sluts” defense will derail a sexual harassment action; but attorneys might continue to fear that a female plaintiff’s sexual activity could defeat her claim in a business setting.

Keywords: jury behavior, jury decision making, experiments, vignette study, sexual harassment, sexual activity, litigation, crime, civil

JEL Classification: K40, K41, K42, J81, J83, J88

Suggested Citation

Hersch, Joni and Moran, Beverly I., Coitus and Consequences in the Legal System: An Experimental Study (February 11, 2016). SMU Law Review 68(4), Fall 2015, 927-949, Vanderbilt Law and Economics Research Paper No. 16-2, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2731258

Joni Hersch (Contact Author)

Vanderbilt University - Law School ( email )

131 21st Avenue South
Nashville, TN 37203-1181
United States
615-343-7717 (Phone)
615-322-6631 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://law.vanderbilt.edu/go/phdlawecon

IZA Institute of Labor Economics ( email )

P.O. Box 7240
Bonn, D-53072
Germany

Vanderbilt University - Owen Graduate School of Management

401 21st Avenue South
Nashville, TN 37203
United States

Vanderbilt University - College of Arts and Science - Department of Economics

Box 1819 Station B
Nashville, TN 37235
United States

Beverly I. Moran

Vanderbilt University - Law School ( email )

131 21st Avenue South
Nashville, TN 37203-1181
United States

Here is the Coronavirus
related research on SSRN

Paper statistics

Downloads
45
Abstract Views
736
PlumX Metrics