Mock jurors' perceptions of "typical" and "learning disabled" victims of child sexual abuse

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Blair T. Johnson


Mock jurors, Learning disabled, Child sexual abuse

Subject Categories

Cognitive Psychology | Law | Special Education and Teaching


This study extended previous research on mock jurors' perceptions of a 9-year-old girl within the context of a child sexual abuse trial. Perceptions were assessed as a function if information provided about the child (presence of "a severe learning disability" versus no information provided about cognitive status), juror gender, history of having been sexually victimized during childhood, and jurors' having been designated LD during their school years. Gender differences emerged, particularly with respect to participants' evaluations of their own childhood sexual experiences with an adult and its impact on views of the alleged child-victim. Previously abused men viewed the alleged sexual contact as being significantly less traumatic and more sexually arousing for the child than did non-abused men; this pattern did not occur for women. Previously abused men and women voted to convict the defendant and viewed an appropriate punishment for someone convicted of child sexual abuse in a manner similar to non-abused individuals. Men and women viewed sexual contact as being relatively traumatic for the child; however, men viewed the sexual contact as being significantly less traumatic to the child than did women. Although women rendered significantly more "guilty" verdicts for the defendant than did men, women's finding a more severe punishment to be appropriate relative to men reached only marginal significance. With respect to the "typical" versus "severe learning disability" manipulation, although no difference was found in the percentage of votes to convict the defendant, a more severe punishment was viewed as being appropriate for someone convicted of victimizing a "typical' child. Overall, participants attributed little responsibility to the child for the alleged sexual contact, however, among participants who had not received LD designations, men attributed more responsibility to the child than did women. Participants who had previously received LD designations viewed the child with a "severe learning disability" as having a more accurate memory for the event in question and as being less likely to have misinterpreted the defendant's actions than did participants who had not been designated as having a learning disability. Results are interpreted in view of previous research on perceptions of child witnesses.