Victim responsibility, credibility, and verdict in a simulated rape case: Application of Weiner's attribution model


Kathryn Sperry, Castleton State College, Castleton, VT 05735, USA (e-mail:


Purpose. Victims of rape are often attributed a certain amount of responsibility, which is often translated into reduced victim credibility and fewer convictions in the courtroom. The purpose of the present study was to apply Weiner's attribution model to the literature on rape blame to understand why victim blame impacts credibility and verdict. Weiner's model posits that perceptions of a target's responsibility will lead to less sympathy and therefore reduced willingness to help the target. In line with this model, it was hypothesized that sympathy for a rape victim mediates the relationship between victim responsibility and: (a) willingness to help the victim, (b) credibility, and (c) verdict.

Methods. Participants read a 1,000-word transcript of a rape trial and made judgements regarding the victim's responsibility for the rape, sympathy for the victim, willingness to help the victim, perceived witness credibility, and verdict. The victim's responsibility for the rape was manipulated between subjects.

Results. The hypotheses were supported: sympathy mediated the relationships between perceived victim responsibility and: (a) willingness to help the victim, (b) credibility, and (c) verdict. Using EQS, two models are presented (one hypothesized and one modified) that further delineate these relationships.

Conclusions. The present study applied a well-established theory in social psychology to further understand the relationship between victim blame, willingness to help, victim credibility, and verdict. In line with Weiner's attribution model, sympathy for the victim played a key role in those relationships. Implications of these findings for legal professionals are discussed.