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The problem of reliability of eyewitness testimony is critical because the words of a witness said confidently can be contemplated as valid; however, it does not mean that the statement is accurate. The necessity of scientific research in this area is justified by the evidence that the genuineness of eyewitness testimony is influenced by various factors such as age, gender, race or nationality, belonging to a particular social group, affiliations with the specific organizations or groups of interest, and many other aspects.
The personal characteristics and connection with other individuals or groups have a significant impact on the perception of a crime and its interpretation. Through the exploration of these factors, scientific research can determine the existing biases and contribute to criminal justice in a way that the practitioners can apply scientifically tested knowledge. This study is aimed to describe the scientific method applicable for the identification of gender-related biases in eyewitness testimony. Considering gender inequality and stereotypes, prevalent in society, gender-specific biases affect the perception of the crime and its evaluation.
Background of the Research
The numerous studies in eyewitness testimony indicate the variations in the retrieval of a memory of a violation associated with the gender differences (Ahola, 2012; Areh, 2011). Both authors concern about the gender-related differences in the reconstruction of the crimes. The distinctions between two examinations are in the materials provided to participants for evaluation and the focus of the research. Though, there are other differences as well.
For example, the variations include the number and age of the participants, the ratio between women and men, and some other divergences. Considering the materials, Areh (2011) offers to the research participants a short video in which a man rubs a woman. This exploration excludes the evaluation of a female perpetrator. Ahola (2012), on the other hand, demonstrates several short videos to the representative group in which both female and male perpetrators are present. While Areh (2011) does not provide the neutral research materials for evaluation, Ahole (2012) gives an option for the participants of the study to compare the neutral and violent actions recorded in the videos.
Areh’s (2011) study, located in the gender differences in the retrieval of a memory of perpetration, demonstrates the female-male discrepancies in describing various aspects of the violation. The emphasis of Ahola’s (2012) research is on the differences in perception of the female and male perpetrators.
The Scientific Method
Regarding the present study, Ahola’s (2012) examination is viewed as more relevant because it provides materials with the female and male perpetrators. Therefore, the assumption that the violation conducted by a man is evaluated with a more severe attitude, than the same criminal act but performed by a woman can be included to the hypothesis of the recent research. The current study tests the assumption that the criminal actions, conducted by a female perpetrator, are perceived and interpreted differently, and their evaluation depends on the gender of the eyewitness.
The confirmation of this hypothesis assists the scientific and professional community with the evidence that the eyewitness testimony should not be considered as an entirely reliable even if it is articulated with the unambiguous confidence. Moreover, the criminal justice specialists should take into consideration the gender of the perpetrator and the witness since the female testimony can be more sympathetic to the woman violator through evaluation of the perpetrator’s acts as the only way to solve the problem but not as the criminal behavior.
Participants, Materials, and Evaluation Procedures
To test the hypothesis the representative group of participants has to be selected. As in the previously mentioned studies, students with the average age of 25 are representative of the research purpose since “there were no clinically meaningful differences between a participant sample consisting of students and one consisting of a group of adults” (Ahola, 2012, p. 494). The group of student participants includes women and men in equal or virtually equal proportion.
The short video with a female perpetrator who performs a shop robbery while using an assault weapon is material for assessment provided to the participants. After watching the video, the group of students answers the questionnaire regarding the details of the robbery and the violator. Also, the participants are instructed to evaluate the actions of the female perpetrator considering the violation.
The second stage of the assessment procedures includes the demonstration of the video with the testimony of the female perpetrator. Then, the participants are asked to evaluate the actions of the violator considering the information that she provided in the video.
The proposed hypothesis can be confirmed if the female members express more empathy to the perpetrator in comparison with the neutral or negative evaluation performed by the male participants. Since the women can link their experience with the female offender’s problems, which she shares and connects them with the robbery in the second video, the women’s witness testimonies can be considered as the gender-biased testaments.
On the other hand, the neutral or negative assessment of the perpetrator’s actions by the women or sympathetic evaluation of the violator’s behavior by the men participants is considered as a failure. Therefore, the hypothesis cannot be proved as a reliable assumption.
The two-step questionnaire helps to understand the gender-related evaluation inclinations based on, for example, the common experience. In case if the assessment procedures do not provide expected results, several additional steps have to be implemented. For instance, two more videos can be demonstrated to the participants. In comparison with the previous videos, the new ones show the male perpetrator in the same situation as the female offender. Also, the video with the male violator’s testimony has to be demonstrated. Depending on the results of the second attempt the hypothesis may be modified.
Ahola, A. (2012). How reliable are eyewitness memories? Effects of retention interval, the violence of act, and gender stereotypes on observers’ judgments of their own memory regarding witnessed act and perpetrator. Psychology, Crime & Law, 18(5), 491-503.
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Areh, I. (2011). Gender-related differences in eyewitness testimony. Personality and Individual Differences, 50(5), 559-563.