Rape Perpetrator Gender Shapes Liability Judgments: Implications for Disgust and Moral Outrage

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Abstract

We explored the impact of defendant and plaintiff gender in a sexual assault civil trial as well as the possible mediating role of emotion (i.e., disgust and moral outrage) on liability outcomes. Participants were 229 community members (61% women; M age = 36) who read a civil trial depicting an alleged prison rape in which an inmate was allegedly sexually assaulted by a prison guard. Plaintiff and defendant gender were manipulated in a fully crossed between-subjects design, resulting in 4 conditions. Specifically, participants read about either a male or female plaintiff (i.e., Mr./Ms. Roberson) and about either a male or female defendant (i.e., Mr./Ms. Shaw). Participants subsequently rendered liability outcomes and completed a series of case judgments (i.e., perceived disgust toward the defendant, moral outrage toward the defendant, and the belief that the crime is common). A series of path analyses supported our theoretically derived hypotheses regarding defendant gender. Participants were more disgusted by a male versus female defendant, which, in turn, predicted greater moral outrage toward the male defendant, which, in turn, predicted defendant liability. Although there were fewer effects or interactions involving plaintiff gender, participants were more morally outraged and more likely to believe the crime was common when the plaintiff was female than male. Finally, when the defendant was female, participants were less likely to believe the crime was common when the plaintiff was male than female.

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