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Archive for the ‘Witness Preparation’ Category

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently released a report on racial and ethnic differences in homicides of adult women. After you read this, you will want to be very careful out there! As it happens, homicide is one of the leading causes of death for women in the US who are age 44 or younger. Whether you are more likely to be murdered varies with your race and/or ethnicity. However, one thing does not vary—over half of female victims (where circumstances were known) were killed by “a current or former male intimate partner”. The CDC calls this “intimate partner violence” or IPV.

Here are some of the scary and yet evidence-based facts related to women being murdered through IPV, in data collected between 2003 and 2014.

Common events prior to IPV related homicides were “arguments [29.7%] and jealousy [12%]”. Arguments and jealousy preceding murder were most common among Hispanic victims than among non-Hispanic Black and White victims.

1 in 10 victims of IPV related homicide had experienced violence in the month prior to their death. Most in IPV related homicides were killed by either a current partner (79.2%) or a former intimate partner (14.3%).

Adult female homicide victims (between 2003 and 2014) ranged in age from 18 to 100 (yes, you read that correctly. 100). One third of female homicide victims were between 18 and 29 years old and the largest segment of victims had never married or were single at the time of death. About 15% of women victims who were of reproductive age (18-44 years as defined by the CDC) were either pregnant or less than 6 weeks postpartum.

Non-Hispanic Black women had the highest rate of death due to homicide, while non-Hispanic White women and Asian/Pacific Islander women had the lowest.

One-third of the victims had attended some college or more.

Firearms were used in almost 54% of female homicides. Other methods of killing included sharp instrument (19.8%), hanging, suffocation or strangulation (10.5%), and blunt instrument (7.9%).

To illustrate the heightened emotion and fear before women are killed, the CDC report tells us that over half (54.5%) of these homicides occurred during what is call “another crime in progress”. In these cases, the women were murdered following assault (45.6%), rape and sexual assault (11.1%), and burglary (9.9%).

The statement the CDC uses to begin their Discussion section is obvious and yet jarring.

“Homicide is the most severe health outcome of violence against women.”

From a litigation advocacy perspective, this data can be used to demonstrate that violence against women often has lethal consequences, and it is often the culmination of domestic violence. These data illustrate the cold reality behind the tendency for homicide investigators to suspect the spouse or intimate partner when women are killed.




Comments Off on Adult female murder victim? Here’s who (statistically speaking) did it

This issue has been the banner of a number of well-known male bloggers who encourage their readers to pile on [with their generally anonymous screen names] when commenters do not agree with the blogger.

These bloggers make comments like, “it’s my blog and I make the rules” to justify boorish behavior. Granted. We don’t choose to interact with bullies—online or otherwise. We have been the subject of the entire spectrum of comment for our writing over the years of The Jury Room, including bizarre and wildly over-the-top trash-talking from a few other bloggers. We do not like it. We ignore it. We move on–as does our readership.

So we were glad to see this article released by the Pew Research Center on Online Harassment in 2017. The really good news is, they released a survey on the same topic in 2014 and so can compare some of the data to see if online harassment is increasing. In a word? Yes. Pew begins by introducing the problem of online harassment this way:

To borrow an expression from the technology industry, harassment is now a “feature” of life online for many Americans. In its milder forms, it creates a layer of negativity that people must sift through as they navigate their daily routines online. At its most severe, it can compromise users’ privacy, force them to choose when and where to participate online, or even pose a threat to their physical safety.

As usual, Pew offers information on just whom they surveyed. In this case, they surveyed 4,248 nationally representative US adults and found that 41% have been harassed themselves and 66% have witnessed the harassment of others online. In some cases, the behaviors are nuisance behaviors like name-calling or efforts to embarrass someone, but 18% of Americans (that is, nearly 1 in 5) “have been subjected to particular severe forms of harassment online, such as physical threats, harassment over a sustained period, sexual harassment, or stalking”.

Social media platforms are an especially harassment-prone area but there are multiple places survey respondents report they have been harassed. Most of them believe harassment is facilitated by the anonymity offered by the internet (and, we would add, the frequent use of pseudonyms). Here are a few of the numbers Pew offers on how many Americans have experienced harassment.

41% of respondents [increased from 35% in 2014] have been personally subjected to at least one type of online harassment: 27% were called offensive names, 22% say efforts were made to intentionally embarrass them, 10% were physically threatened, and 6% reported sexual harassment. The 41% total includes those who’ve experienced particularly severe forms of harassment (Pew defines this as stalking, physical threats, sexual harassment, or harassment over a sustained period of time).

Young adults (aged 18-29) are especially singled out for harassment (67% have been harassed—41% severely). At the same time, 30-49 years olds experience harassment frequently as well (49%—up 10% since 2014). Americans age 50 and older report harassment at a lower rate (22% also up 5% since 2014).

Harassment online is typically very personal. 14% reported being harassed for political views, 9% for their physical appearance, 8% for their race or gender, 5% for their religion, and 3% for sexual orientation.

When we look at specific racial groups, 25% of Blacks have been harassed online for race or ethnicity as have 10% of Hispanics. The number among Whites is much lower at 3%. In terms of gender, women (11%) are twice as likely as men (5%) to report having been targeted as a result of gender.

62% of Americans see online harassment as a major problem and only 5% think it is not at all a problem. There are significant gender differences of opinion that Pew addresses in detail when it comes to the problems with online harassment. There are also significant differences among those who have been severely harassed (regardless of gender) and these differences include serious emotional distress and damage to their reputations.

These are good things to review at the report itself to help you understand how the exact same behavior is perceived so very differently based on both gender and experiences online. There is also disagreement on who should manage online civility. Some think it is the responsibility of online services while others think the services should just offer better tools to help people address harassment online. Still others think bystanders witnessing abusive behavior online should play a direct role in stopping it.

In addition to the actual survey, Pew also includes a Q&A article explaining how and why they chose to study online harassment. If you are interested in a brief summary rather than reading the entire article (which isn’t that long), they also have a key points summation.


Comments Off on If you think online harassment is not a  problem—only 5% of the country agrees with you

Researchers actually study the factors that go into making others see you as a jerk—and help us figure out how to avoid those behaviors. Today’s research is from an international team of researchers in the Netherlands, the US and the UK. Their work is interesting to consider from the perspective of witness preparation of the difficult witness.

According to the researchers, most of us work to manage the impressions others have of us and some of us do it quite well. Others fail miserably, however, and these researchers think that failure stems from making poor choices on which impression management strategies to adopt. Instead of choosing strategies that work well, these people choose strategies that fail and result in negative perceptions of them by others. The researchers caution to not use these strategies in your self-presentation if you want to be perceived positively. They also tell us (as if we would not already know) that people using these strategies are likely to score higher on measures of pomposity, self-centeredness, self-aggrandizement, dominance, and narcissism. And the reason narcissists fail to self-present positively?

It’s Witness Preparation Lesson 101: They fail to consider the audience’s perspective.

So here, in the order presented in the paper, are the behaviors you want to avoid if your goal is to make a good impression. From a litigation advocacy perspective, these are also bad habits you want to watch out for as you are preparing witnesses.

Hubris: The researchers refer to hubris as “self-aggrandizing displays”. We’d call it “showing off”. Observers especially disliked statements wherein the speaker claims s/he was better than others as a choice of whom to befriend. According to the researchers, these sorts of displays result in observers viewing the speaker with hostility. We’ve blogged in the past about how the “hubris penalty” is applied to Black athletes.

Humblebrag: The researchers describe the humblebrag as “irksome efforts to mask bragging in the guise of complaining or appearing humble”. It is another misguided effort to appear better than others that, we’ve also blogged about in the past. The authors give this example from Twitter: “Hair is not done, just rolled out of bed from a nap, and still get hit on, so confusing!” This sort of comment results in the observers perceiving insincerity.

Hypocrisy: The third failing strategy the researchers discuss is hypocrisy. They describe this as attempts by the speaker to transmit a certain image verbally while their behavior does not live up to those standards. As long as the behavior that contradicts their verbiage remains hidden, they may get away with it. However, if the “discrepant behavior” becomes public, the hypocrite is judged more harshly than even those who did the same thing but didn’t try to claim they were above it. The researchers say this form of failed impression management is especially despised by observers and is more likely to occur among narcissists. And yes, we’ve also blogged about hypocrisy—particularly in the case of high-profile falls from grace.

Backhanded compliments: The final failed impression management strategy involves giving a backhanded compliment (e.g., “You are smart for an intern”). The intent with this strategy is to remind the recipient of the compliment of your (much) higher status and to make the person like you. The reality of the strategy is that it is experienced as a subtle but strategic put-down. Again, this strategy is more likely to be employed by the narcissist who typically fails to disregard the audience’s perspective. Sadly, we have not blogged about back-handed compliments, but we have blogged about an experience in a mock trial where one of the attorney’s formed a strong connection with the mock jurors with his “very attractive” necktie [for which he was complimented most sincerely].

So, why, when it is clear to the observer that these strategies do not work—do people keep using them? The researchers think that it results from a lack of accuracy in estimating others’ perceptions of us. Perhaps we do not get enough feedback (which is crucial to improving one’s performance and should be a central component of the witness preparation process). We have multiple posts on witness preparation that you may want to read.

Steinmetz, J. Sezer, O. Sedikides, C 2017 Impression mismanagement: People as inept self-presenters. Social Personality Psychology Compass, 11.



Comments Off on Do you come across as a jerk? Here’s how to stop 

The U.S. Department of Justice defines hate crime as “the violence of intolerance and bigotry, intended to hurt and intimidate someone because of their race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, or disability.” While the documentation and awareness of hate crimes is essential, we also need to understand the differences in the numbers we see reported on hate crimes, increases and decreases for specific types of hate crimes, and what those shifts in numbers actually mean. We often see comments about one kind of hate crime being more “important” than another due to a spike in frequency. Today’s article points out that it is likely unwise to arrange the badness of hate crimes in any sort of hierarchy. To modify an existing meme just a bit, “hate is hate”.

This is a fairly dry article but it contains useful information on the documentation of hate crimes and the limitations of the reporting used to give us those numbers. The writer starts out by telling us there are 4 general sources of information documenting the prevalence of hate crimes.

  1. Victim reports to community anti-violence organizations.
  2. Community surveys conducted with oversampling of sexual and gender minority respondents.
  3. Data from local law enforcement agencies compiled annually by the FBI.
  4. And, surveys conducted with national probability samples.

The author believes it is important to understand that hate crimes are under-reported and different things will be reported to different documenters. Each of these information sources may well report their data accurately, but none of them is believed to be completely accurate. Here are some of his history of the data collection process and cautionary tales on how to evaluate hate crimes data by being aware of the source:

When data is reported by community organizations and anti-violence projects

Numbers gathered by these groups will likely be higher than those reported by law enforcement since victims may feel safer reporting crimes to these groups. Additionally, they are looking for evidence not just of a crime, but of the reasons for it—not something that law enforcement necessarily finds as central to their duties.

Prior to 1990, data was collected somewhat haphazardly and with little consistency between what information was collected from community to community. This changed in 1990 when data collection was standardized so it could be compared year to year.

Since 1995, data for crimes has been reported by gender identity as well as sexual orientation. For 2015, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) reported 1,253 incidents of hate crime against sexual and gender minorities as well as those with HIV (data was from 13 local member organizations in 12 states).

In short, this data provides valuable information about victims, perpetrators and crimes in specific cities. It is likely to include crimes unreported to criminal justice authorities and thus missing from FBI data. They do not include data from people who are in prison, those in rural areas, those who keep sexual orientation or gender identity secret, and those who simply feel uncomfortable reporting victimization to a community agency.

When data is reported from survey studies from academics and community-based advocates

Reports from these agencies are seen as an important estimate of the number of hate crimes that have occurred in a particular city in a specific year. However, the numbers are seen as low estimates since not all such crimes are reported to the agencies responsible for creating the reports. Earlier survey studies used non-random samples (that is, people volunteered or were surveyed in large groups like schools or churches) and their generalizability is limited. Early studies also did not identify data based on transgender versus cisgender status. [Cisgender is also known as heterosexual but ‘cisgender’ is used in the literature on sexual identity.]

More recent surveys (again, these were not random samples) have shown that hate crimes occur in roughly one-fourth of transgender respondents up to about one-third of transgender respondents. In brief, this data documents the idea that hate crimes exist and allows examination of the demographic, social and psychological variables associated with victimization. Data quality varies widely and the prudent user needs to be aware of that reality.

When data is reported from FBI Hate Crimes Statistics 

This data began to be collected in 1990 with 4,755 hate crimes reported for 1990. In 2013, the FBI began to also track hate crimes based on gender identity. They reported few of these sorts of crimes for a national database although the number is steadily raising. In 2013, 31 gender identity crimes were reported. [Gender identity refers to whether you see yourself as male or female and not whether you were born as male or female. Typically, the term “gender identity crimes” means crimes that were committed against someone because they were trying to ‘pass’ as a different gender or were thought to be trying to ‘pass’.]

In 2014, 98 gender identity crimes were reported and in 2015, 114 gender identity crimes were reported. The author says this data is likely under-reporting the actual incidence of hate crimes since participation of local law enforcement agencies is entirely voluntary; in order to report them, the local agency has to recognize they are seeing a hate crime; and many people never report their victimization to the police.

In short, the FBI data is valuable in that it contains only those incidents that have been identified by local law enforcement authorities as meeting criteria for a hate crime. As mentioned above, this data is plagued by under-reporting and is known to offer a lower estimate of hate crimes occurring in any given year.

Population-Based Surveys with National Probability Samples

The advantage of these surveys is that (since they are probability samples aka large and randomly selected participants) they are generalizable but collecting this data is expensive. Most researchers use government-sponsored surveys with large samples—like the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), to take advantage of the larger populations of sexual and gender minority hate crime survivors already in the sample. Differences in how the FBI categorizes hate crimes versus how the NCVS categorizes hate crimes result in widely differing numbers and reflect how many victims never report the hate crimes to law enforcement.

For 2012, the NCVS estimate of nonfatal hate crime victimization was 293,800 (about 13% of these were based on the victim’s sexual orientation). The author provides some other survey data that show anywhere from 12% to 32% of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender adults have been abused due to their sexual orientation. Since these surveys did not measure exactly the same things, the ability to compare their findings is limited.

In short, this data avoids the underreporting of hate crimes issue in the other databases but you will have to ensure they are based on very large samples (and the NCVS data will be).

The author urges users of hate crime data to be aware of the nature of the data source on which they rely and its accompanying strengths and limitations. From a litigation advocacy perspective, it is important to know the strengths and limitations of the various databases so that you can educate jurors on which numbers are the best estimate of actual occurrence as they consider your case. Like understanding the problems for Black men encountering police and law enforcement—jurors who are not personally aware of the prevalence of hate crimes will need to be educated on that reality.

The implications for criminal cases involving allegations of hate crimes is pretty clear. While Defense attorneys may emphasize FBI numbers and say the conduct was not one of these rare hate crimes but rather one of the unfortunate confrontations that are seen every day.

Prosecutors will want to embrace the NCVS data and stress the reluctance to report hate crime victimization. We are reminded of the old saying that when you hear hoofbeats, you should expect to see a horse, not a zebra. The question is in part one of whether hate crimes are rare or not.

The public resistance to the idea that we live in a society with high levels of bias and unfairness is a significant barrier to accepting hate crimes. Prosecutors should consider avoiding indictment of society by talking about how common hate crimes are, and focusing on the elements of conduct that are in the hate crimes statute. Most people don’t want to believe that this is an epidemic, but they are more readily willing to see malevolent conduct, and struggle to find an explanation that makes sense to them.

This Defense approach would likely also offer the argument that the victim was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The Prosecutor can argue that this hate crimes are an epidemic and ask the jurors to send a message as to whether they want this criminal behavior condoned in their town. (Visit our Simple Jury Persuasion: Not in my town! post to see how this would work.)

Herek, GM 2017. Documenting hate crimes in the United States: Some considerations on data sources. Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity, 4(2), 143-151.


Comments Off on Consider the source: Even when evaluating data on  hate crimes

We mentioned this scale last week in a combination post but decided it deserved a post of its own as with other scales we’ve featured here in the past. You are likely aware of the terms “driving while black” or “flying while brown” and this scale means to document that experience of discrimination and accompanying health impact. Despite a plethora of research on general stress and race-related stress—the researchers developing this scale say they “are not aware of any psychometric instruments that specifically focus on assessing Black men’s experiences with law enforcement discrimination”.

In order to develop a valid scale, the researchers did “exploratory qualitative interviews” with 90 Black men from three towns in the state of Georgia (in the US). From those interviews, the researchers developed 8 “distinct dimensions” of negative experience with the police:

being accused of drug-related behavior, being unfairly pulled over while driving, being unfairly stopped and searched, being assumed a thief, experiencing verbal abuse, experiencing physical abuse, unfair treatment associated with attire, and being unfairly arrested.

Their next step was to develop scale items (i.e., questions) based in the 8 dimensions they identified through the 90 qualitative interviews. They tested the questions generated in a couple of focus groups by asking focus group members to consider the individual questions and to talk with the researchers about their thought processes as they answered the questions. They revised the questions following the focus group feedback and followed up a second time with individual interviews of another sample of 15 Black men. The researchers again sought feedback on question content and thoughts associated with the questions. They were then ready to pilot test 8 questions to a small group of 22 men.

They screened the men with the following “filter question”: “Have you had any experiences with police or law enforcement in the past year?” Thirteen of the 22 men responded “Yes” and they were asked to complete the questionnaire. After this phase of scale development, they changed the “filter question” time period from one year to 5 years to get a larger experience base to sample and dropped the overall scale length from the initial 8 questions to the following five questions.

In the past five years, how often have police or law enforcement…

  1. …accused you of having or selling drugs?
  2. …pulled you over for no reason while you were driving?
  3. …been verbally abusive to you?
  4. …been physically abusive to you?
  5. …treated you unfairly because of how you dress?

The final effort of scale validation used 1,264 Black men who ranged in age from 18 to 65 years with an average age of 43.99. Participants were recruited via a random-digit-dial method in four Georgia counties (Fulton, DeKalb, Lowndes, and Muskogee) located in three metropolitan areas (Atlanta, Columbus and Valdosta). Basically the interviewers called random numbers and asked if any Black males lived at the phone number. Those that did not hang up on them were asked if there was more than one Black male residing at the address and if yes, a single Black male at that phone number was selected for participation. Each Black male was asked all five questions on the PLE Scale.

Here is what they found:

Younger men had higher scores on all of the scale questions (including the filter question) when compared to older men.

Men with lower incomes scored higher on the scale questions and reported more accusations of drug abuse, more physical abuse, and more unfair treatment because of attire than men reporting higher incomes.

Men with less education reported more accusations of drug abuse, being pulled over, more unfair treatment due to attire, and more general experiences (in response to the filter question) compared to men with more education.

Men who had been in prison reported higher frequencies on all questions on the scale than did men who had no history of incarceration.

Higher scores on the scale were associated with more racial discrimination experiences and depressive symptoms.

The researchers believe this scale is culturally rooted in the experiences of Black men and can aid in describing the impact of police behaviors on Black men in a consistent way. From a litigation advocacy perspective, this scale may be used to help educate jurors on the day-to-day experiences of Black men as they encounter police and law enforcement officers.

English, D, Bowleg, L, del Rio-Gonzalez, M, Tschann, J Agans, RP Malebranche, DJ 2017. Measuring black men’s police-based discrimination experiences: Development and validation of the Police and Law Enforcement (PLE) Scale. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 25(2), 185-199.



Comments Off on The Police & Law Enforcement Scale:  Measuring Police-Based Discrimination Experiences of Black Men