Lady Injustice: The Moderating Effect of Ambivalent Sexism in a Mock Case of Intimate Partner Homicide

AuthorJoel Anderson,Laura Cutroni
Published date01 March 2021
Date01 March 2021
Subject MatterArticles
CRIMINAL JUSTICE AND BEHAVIOR, 2021, Vol. 48, No. 3, March 2021, 373 –390.
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© 2020 International Association for Correctional and Forensic Psychology
The Moderating Effect of Ambivalent Sexism in
a Mock Case of Intimate Partner Homicide
Australian Catholic University
Swinburne University
Australian Catholic University
Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, La Trobe University
Extra-legal biases have an undue effect on legal proceedings, warranting explorations of gender bias in the courtroom to
promote and maintain just verdicts. We used an experimentally manipulated mock court transcript of an intimate partner
homicide, in which the defendant has been victimized by intimate partner violence. We explore whether hostile and benevo-
lent sexism moderate the decisions of mock jurors. Men and women mock jurors (N = 220) responded to the Ambivalent
Sexism Inventory before being randomly allocated to read a transcript of either a female or male defendant, and then respond-
ing to five sentence outcome variables. Hostile and benevolent sexism moderated several sentencing outcome variables,
across a range of male and female juror and defendant gender combinations, suggesting these forms of sexism are consequen-
tial in driving forensic gender biases. This study also contributes to the literature suggesting that male victims of female-
perpetrated intimate partner violence are systemically disadvantaged in courtroom processes.
Keywords: juror decision-making; benevolent sexism; hostile sexism; intimate partner homicide; intimate partner violence
Research has shown the gender of defendants to be pertinent in verdict and sentencing
trends (e.g., Strub & McKimmie, 2016). The extant literature delineates a consistent
trend where female defendants receive more lenient sentences than men for comparable
offenses (Ahola et al., 2009). This leniency manifests in a number of ways: Women are
more likely to have their charges reduced or dropped (Henning & Feder, 2005), avoid a
criminal conviction (Ryon, 2013), receive shorter prison sentences, or even avoid incar-
ceration altogether (Bontrager et al., 2013; Butcher et al., 2017). Furthermore, there is
AUTHORS’ NOTE: Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Joel Anderson, School of
Behavioural and Health Sciences, Australian Catholic University, Melbourne Campus (St Patrick), Locked Bag
4115, Melbourne, Victoria 3065, Australia; e-mail:
967704CJBXXX10.1177/0093854820967704Criminal Justice and BehaviorCutroni, Anderson /
evidence that this gendered sentence leniency persists for a range of crimes, with female
defendants receiving more lenient sentences when convicted of either violent (Embry &
Lyons, 2012; Fridel, 2019) or nonviolent crimes (e.g., property-, drug-, and theft-related
offenses; McKimmie & Masser, 2010; Ryon, 2013).
The gender of jurors has also been demonstrated as a key variable in sentencing out-
comes for defendants. There has been considerable evidence to suggest that mock female
jurors are more likely to deliver harsher sentences than their male counterparts in cases of
sexual violence such as child molestation (McCauley & Parker, 2001; Pozzulo et al., 2010),
and sexual assault and rape (Grubb & Harrower, 2008; Osborn et al., 2018). It is important
to recognize that this gendered-sentencing pattern has been demonstrated for crimes stereo-
typed as male-perpetrated and female-victimized. This has been attributed to the gendered
nature of such crimes, which elicits empathy within female jurors due to the jurors’ self-
perceived likelihood of becoming victims of such crimes themselves (Maeder et al., 2012).
Given the gender-related trends in sexually violent crimes, gender is particularly influential
in trials involving intimate partner violence (IPV). Although IPV constitutes any behavior by
an intimate partner or ex-partner that causes physical, sexual, and/or psychological harm, IPV
literature is predominantly focused on physical abuse. As women in heterosexual intimate
relationships are more likely to be severely injured by physical IPV than their male counter-
parts (Hamel, 2018; Lawrence et al., 2012), IPV is overwhelmingly conceptualized as a male-
perpetrated crime. It therefore follows that male defendants accused of perpetrating IPV are
perceived to be more guilty and are sentenced more frequently and severely than female
defendants accused of comparable offenses (Henning & Feder, 2005; Stanziani et al., 2018).
Past research has demonstrated the existence of an interaction between defendant and
juror gender, through which female jurors tend to deliver harsher sentences for male (vs.
female) defendants accused of committing IPV (Allen & Bradley, 2018; Maeder et al.,
2012). However, when IPV victims commit intimate partner homicide (IPH) and kill their
abuser, the defendant–juror gender interaction becomes more complex. Although women
are more likely to be killed by an intimate partner than men (Iratzoqui & McCutcheon,
2018), IPV-victimized defendants accused of IPH are most often depicted as female, and
the IPV perpetrator/IPH victim as male. In such cases of IPH, the expected gendered-sen-
tencing pattern has also been found, with female defendants receiving the most lenient
sentences in comparison with male defendants, with these sentences being delivered by
female jurors more frequently than by male jurors (Hodell et al., 2014; Russell et al., 2009).
In spite of this, some research has found no significant differences between male and female
jurors’ sentences for IPH-accused female defendants (Braden-Maguire et al., 2005). In one
study, male jurors were even found to assign more severe sentences for IPH than female
jurors, regardless of defendant gender (Savage et al., 2017); thus, further research is neces-
sary to determine the direction of a defendant–juror gender interaction in IPH cases. The
limited exploration of cases involving male IPV-victimized IPH defendants also warrants
additional exploration.
Although investigating the incidence of gender bias in the court is paramount to main-
taining the course of justice, mitigating the effect of such extra-legal factors also relies on

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