National Action Plan Against Sexual Assault (NAPASA). This outline may be freely reproduced, published in newsletters, distributed to local media, and generally used to support the goals and objectives of NAPASA.

Outline of Legal Issues Raised by Social Science Research
on Sexual Assault and Child Sexual Abuse

K. Edward Renner, PhD
National Action Program Against Sexual Assault

The criminal justice system is most likely to be lenient when ever there is relationship between the accused, when there is no clear physically harm, and when ever the accused is of good social standing and is not associated with an underclass or criminal element of society.

Leniency = Relationship + No Harm + Not Dangerous

However, these are also the three social conditions which define the circumstances of the majority of adult sexual assault and child sexual abuse cases. In most instances: (1) The victim is know to the offender in a social or family context. (2) The victim chooses not to be physically harmed as well as sexually assaulted. (3) The accused is most often self-sufficient and does not look like the typical offender who commits economic crimes.

Relationship + No Harm + Not Dangerous = Sexual Assault/Abuse

Therefore, by definition, sexual assault/abuse is treated with leniency in actual practice by the criminal justice process.

Leniency = Sexual Assault/Abuse

Because the criterion for leniency is identical with the social conditions under which women are sexual assaulted and children sexually abused, these two concepts are hopeless confounded. As a result, only physically harmful assaults by strangers who are socially problematic are fully held to be legally blameworthy. This is why we wrote in our research papers that the courts "discount" the severity of sexual assault and child sexual abuse, by definition.

Sexual Assault/Abuse = Discounting of Severity

Technically, "discounting" manifests itself as selectivity and disparity. Women and children are first selectively removed from the full protection of the law when their cases are not reported, founded or charged. Finally, for those cases charged, there is disparity in the degree to which there are convictions and severe sentences (Renner, Alksnis & Park, 1997).

Discounting = Selectivity + Disparity

Whenever there is selectivity and disparity in the criminal justice process it means there is a lack of equality (equal protection of the law) and procedural unfairness. When this is systematically directed at a class of people, such as women who have been sexually assaulted and children who have been sexually abused, this is also a form of discrimination.

Selectivity + Disparity = Inequality + Unfairness + Discrimination

Inequality, unfairness and discrimination at the hand of the courts creates a set of conditions which are unconstitutional, procedurally unjust, and illegal.

Inequality + Unfairness + Discrimination = Unconstitutional + Unjust + Illegal

There are legal recourses against actions by the criminal justice process which are unconstitutional, unjust and illegal.

Remedy for Unconstitutional = Constitutional Challenges

Remedy for Unjust = Procedural Appeals

Remedy for Illegal = Social and Political Actions and Civil Suits

When "selectivity" and "discounting" sets the legal standard, the police and prosecution follow suite because the typical case is not going to be seen as credible by the courts. Women and children respond by not reporting sexual offenses, and they are, in return, blamed by the entire criminal justice system for failure to make use of the system provided for their protection. Thus, blame for a fundamental failure of the legal process is shifted to the victim through a self-fulfilling prophecy initiated by the courts themselves. The ultimate protector is, in fact, an accomplice, and thus a co-perpetrator of sexual violence against women and children (Renner, 2002).


Renner, K. E., Alksnis, C., and Park, L.1997. The standard of social justice as a research process. Canadian Psychology: 38, 91-102.

Renner, K. E. Re-conceptualizing sexual assault: From an intractable social problem to a manageable process of social change. In James Hodgson & Debra Kelley eds.,Sexual Violence: Policies, Practices, and Challenges in the United States and Canada. Praeger: 2002, Pp 135-153.


For further information see, or contact the National Action Plan Against Sexual Assault, 14241 110th Terrace North, Largo, FL 33774, (727) 595-3857,

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