New research aims to improve intimate partner rape prosecutions
06 March 2023
A new book being launched at Parliament this week analyses prosecutions of intimate partner rape with the aim of improving the trial process for complainants.
Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha |University of Canterbury Law Adjunct Professor Elisabeth McDonald says her new publication focuses on a relatively under-researched aspect of the trial process – the impact on adult complainants when misconceptions about rape and family violence are used to challenge their evidence, and in particular their credibility.
“The high level of family violence in Aotearoa New Zealand presents a systemic and resistant challenge for the criminal justice system. While much research focuses on the prevention of and response to family violence, there is a noticeable absence of work examining the prosecution of serious sexual and physical violence that occurs within an intimate relationship. There is also a high attrition rate because of the traumatic nature of the rape trial process.
“The purpose of the research is to provide a more informed place from which to improve the complainant’s experience in rape trials, to ensure a fair trial process for both complainants and defendants.”
Professor McDonald says it’s essential for sexual violence within a relationship to be recognised as a distinct and significant form of harm and to understand the nature of consent within a context of coercive control.
The publication, which is the third and final volume in a series of open-access resources published by Canterbury University Press, includes comparative analysis of 20 intimate partner rape trials – with five heard by a judge sitting alone – and provides the basis for wide-ranging proposals to reform law and practice. Professor McDonald will speak to the research in the Banquet Hall at Parliament from 5.30pm on 8 March, and the Minister for the Prevention of Family and Sexual Violence, Hon Marama Davidson will respond to the findings.
“The fact that effectively responding to sexual and family violence remains a priority on the current government reform agenda provided the motivation for me to begin another day reading rape cases,” says Professor McDonald. “It is my hope that this book will provide the information needed to support some real and significant policy shifts in the prosecution of intimate partner rape.”
Generous funding by the Michael and Suzanne Borrin Foundation enabled the research and publication of this work.
Prosecuting Intimate Partner Rape: The impact of misconceptions on complainant experience and trial process by Elisabeth McDonald, published by Canterbury University Press, March 2023, Open Access pdf file, 525pp, ISBN: 978-1-98-850335-6.
About the author:
Elisabeth McDonald MNZM is an Adjunct Professor of Law at Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha | University of Canterbury. She has taught and published in the areas of sexual and family violence, law and sexuality, criminal law and the law of evidence for over 30 years, as an academic and as the Policy Manager for the evidence law reference at the New Zealand Law Commission. This book is her third in a trilogy which includes In the Absence of a Jury: Examining judge-alone rape trials (2022); and the award-winning Rape Myths as Barriers to Fair Trial Process (2020). Elisabeth is also co-editor of From “Real Rape” to Real Justice (2011) and Feminist Judgments Aotearoa: Te Rino, the Two-Stranded Rope (2017).
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