Faculty Mentor

Dr. Heather Hlavka, Criminology and Law Studies


Amber J. Powell is a senior majoring in Criminology, Law Studies and Spanish. Amber is a member LASO and Sandy Robinson Emerging Leaders. She is a recipient of the Ralph H. Metcalfe Sr. Scholarship, the Journal Foundation Francis D. and Jane Keogh Kelly Award, and the Nicole Ellis Foundation Award. After graduation in December 2014, she plans to pursue a Master’s degree in Sociology focusing on Gender Violence.



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Even though several studies explore common themes in victim-blaming strategies amongst adult sexual assault cases, very few address how these techniques are used to blame and discredit child sexual assault victims. Therefore, this study compared the cultural narratives used by defense attorneys to blame adult and child sexual assault victims in the courtroom. The study sample consisted of 18 sexual assault cases (5 adult victims and 13 child victims) in three branches of the Milwaukee county courthouse in Milwaukee Wisconsin. The defendants and victims in these cases represent a various ethnicities, ages, and social economic backgrounds. Employing a mixed-methods approach, this study used ethnographic observational data, archival research, and secondary data analysis to compare victim-blaming strategies during jury trials and sentencing hearings. Observational data was collected between May and June 2013, while secondary data was collected between September 2011 and May 2012. Archival data was provided by Consolidated Court Automation Programs (CCAP) and shows records of cases in the Wisconsin Circuit Courts. Jury trials and sentencing hearings play an important role in comprehending victim blaming because defense attorneys often use those times as an opportunity to discredit the victim. Results show that the narratives utilized work to hold adult and child victims as unbelievable across a variety of themes relating to consent, reliability, and corroboration. A narrative of rebelliousness was also invoked particularly as it pertained to child victims. The importance of these findings is elaborate in the discussion.

Publication Date

Summer 2013


Criminology and Criminal Justice | Other Legal Studies

Amber J. Powell - Blaming the Victim: A Look at Sexual Assault Adjudication in the Milwaukee County Courthouse