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Designing Questionnaires on Emotionally Charged Social Issues: Examining Perceptions of the Accused and Accuser in Sexual Assault Allegations

By: Published: 2018 | Product: SAGE Research Methods Cases Part 2
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This research methods case study recounts the insurrection that occurred among research participants during my piloting of the Kobe Bryant Accusations Questionnaire. I designed the Kobe Bryant Accusations Questionnaire in 2003 when the State of Colorado filed rape charges against now-retired Los Angeles Laker basketball celebrity Kobe Bryant, leading to immense public discussion and commentary about the case. The purpose of the Kobe Bryant Accusations Questionnaire was to determine whether the factors influencing public presumptions about the Bryant case were similar to factors/themes that had emerged in undergraduate opinion essays about a 1992 jury’s rape conviction of boxing champion Mike Tyson. The Tyson themes, revealed through content analysis, may be summarized under three headings: (a) perception of the accused as societal scapegoat versus spoiled celebrity versus miscreant; (b) perception of the accuser–victim as a star struck innocent versus conspirator versus woman scorned/”gold digger”; and (c) perception of anti-Black bias in criminal justice processes and in mass media coverage of crime. During the Kobe Bryant Accusations Questionnaire piloting, many participants revealed such strong emotions about Bryant and/or the assault charges against him that they skipped, marked out, or edited Kobe Bryant Accusations Questionnaire items that conflicted with their beliefs about “what had really happened” between Bryant and his accuser. This case study discusses developing the Kobe Bryant Accusations Questionnaire, and how I ultimately resolved resistance by changing not the content of items, but the order of items, adding fill-in response options for select multiple-choice items, and perhaps most importantly, inserting an open-ended item that allowed subjects to vent first and respond to theory-based items later.

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