The Effect of Offender Gender and Sexual Orientation on Prosecutors' Reactions to Juvenile Sex Offense Cases
The objective of this study was to determine whether prosecutors would be more inclined to prosecute a juvenile sex offense case when the offender is gay versus straight. I also tested whether the effect of offender sexual orientation would be different for male versus female juvenile offenders. Based on previous research showing leniency toward lesbian juvenile sex offenders among laypeople, I hypothesized that prosecutors would be more likely to prosecute a case in which the offender was gay instead of heterosexual—but only if they were boys. In contrast, if the offenders were lesbians, I hypothesized that prosecutors would be less inclined to prosecute, compared to heterosexual girls. Based on survey data, I found that prosecutors’ decisions to prosecute were not affected by the offender’s gender or sexuality, but their impressions of the offender were. Prosecutors perceived males to be more likely to recidivate than females. Specifically, gay males were perceived as more likely to recidivate than heterosexual males; however the difference between lesbians and heterosexuals were nearly indistinguishable. Prosecutors also viewed gay males as having more negative attributes than heterosexual males. Contrarily, lesbian girls were perceived as having slightly less negative attributes than heterosexual girls. Still, females overall were perceived as having less negative attributes than males. These impressions on recidivism and negative attributes were important because they both positively correlated with the prosecutor’s decision to prosecute the case.