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A survey of police officers’ and prosecutors’ beliefs about crime victim behaviors

Conference paper
Authors Karl Ask
Published in Paper presented at the 5th meeting of the Nordic Network for research on Psychology and Law, Copenhagen, Denmark
Publication year 2008
Published at Department of Psychology
Language en
Keywords Crime victims, Beliefs, Self-presentation, Police, Prosecutors, Survey
Subject categories Psychology


Introduction and Aim: Due to the negative psychological impact of criminal victimization, an appropriate treatment of crime victims by professionals in the legal system is crucial for victims’ well-being and long-term recovery. A prerequisite for appropriate treatment is that professionals are equipped with accurate beliefs about crime victims. The present study sought to assess the existing beliefs. Method: A survey addressing beliefs about the behaviors and reactions of victims of violent crimes was conducted via web-based and mail questionnaires. In total, 211 police officers and 190 prosecutors in Sweden responded to the survey. Results: There were considerable differences in the expected behavioral display of different types of crime victims, with rape and domestic assault victims seen as particularly prone to expressive self-presentation and self-blame. Despite empirical evidence showing otherwise, most respondents thought that crime victims’ nonverbal and emotional expression is related to the truthfulness of their accounts. However, educational efforts appeared to have a corrective influence on such beliefs. The perceived prevalence of false reports differed across crime types, with rape and mugging receiving particularly high estimates. Police officers believed false reports to be more common than did prosecutors. Time constraints were seen, especially by prosecutors, as an impediment to appropriate treatment of crime victims. Conclusions: Although some reported beliefs were at odds with established research, respondents rightly acknowledged the fact that different types of crime victims may behave differently. Furthermore, educational efforts appear to be effective in tackling inaccurate beliefs. Potential explanations for occupational differences and limitations associated with the survey methodology are discussed.

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