Police Decision Making in Sexual Assault Cases: Predictors of Suspect Identification and Arrest

Melinda Tasca, Nancy Rodriguez, Cassia Spohn, Mary P. Koss

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

109 Scopus citations


As the initial gatekeepers of the criminal justice system, police officers hold considerable discretion in the investigation of offenses and in the decision to make an arrest. This is particularly true with sexual assault given the unique nature of these cases. Yet most research in this area has focused on prosecutors' charging decisions rather than police outcomes for reports of sexual assaults. In an effort to address this gap in the literature, we rely on official records collected from all sexual assaults reported to police in a large Arizona city in 2003 (N = 220) to examine the effects of crime seriousness, evidentiary strength, victim blame, and believablity factors on suspect identification and arrest. Results revealed that both legal and extralegal factors influenced whether police identify and arrest a suspect. These findings raise questions surrounding the role that police play in securing victim cooperation and the extent to which stereotypes of "legitimate" victims shape police officers' willingness to investigate sexual assault cases.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1157-1177
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of interpersonal violence
Issue number6
StatePublished - Apr 2013


  • police decision making
  • rape
  • sexual assault

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Applied Psychology


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