Voice Pitch and Sexuality in Perceptions of Domestic Abuse Victims

About this Session


Thu. 11.04. 12:30



Author – Matthew Hunt.

Abstract :

Women are disproportionately affected by domestic abuse, especially those in same-sex relationships who face a higher risk (Messinger 2011) and are often seen as less credible victims (Poorman et al 2003). Masculine-presenting lesbian victims are particularly prone to blame (Little & Terrance 2010). This study explored how voice pitch, a resource for expressing gender and sexuality (Cuddy 2019), influences perceptions of female domestic abuse victims.

In a controlled experiment, 300 participants listened to an audio recording of a scripted domestic abuse allegation. The study used a 2×3 between-subjects design: Pronouns (Male, Female), signifying the abuser’s gender, and Pitch (Baseline, High, Low), achieved by digital manipulation. Participants evaluated the voice on semantic differential scales. Results, analyzed with cumulative link models, revealed a significant Pronouns and Pitch interaction (p < 0.05) on the "scared" scale. When male pronouns were used, the low-pitched voice was perceived as less scared than the baseline, with the opposite effect when female pronouns were used. Male participants in the low-pitch conditions were also less likely to think a crime had been committed.

These findings echo previous research suggesting that gender expression and sexuality intersect to shape perceptions of domestic abuse victims (Little & Terrance 2010). This can be understood through listeners’ stereotypical expectations of how specific demographic groups should sound (Levon 2014). These results carry implications for domestic abuse policing, particularly in cases reliant on officers’ assessments of a victim’s fear level as primary evidence (Crown Prosecution Service 2022). Understanding how voice pitch affects perceptions of victims in different relationships and gender presentations can enhance the support and response provided to victims, addressing disparities in their experiences.

–       Crown Prosecution Service. 2022. Domestic abuse. https://www.cps.gov.uk/legal-guidance/domestic-abuse.

–       Cuddy, Salina. 2019. Can women” sound gay”?: A sociophonetic study of/s/and pitch of gay and straight British English speaking women. Doctoral dissertation: University of York.

–       Levon, E., 2014. Categories, stereotypes, and the linguistic perception of sexuality. Language in Society, 43(5), pp.539-566.

–       Little, Betsi & Cheryl Terrance. 2010. Perceptions of domestic violence in lesbian relationships: Stereotypes and gender role expectations. Journal of Homosexuality 57(3). 429–440.

–       Messinger, Adam M. 2011. Invisible victims: Same-sex IPV in the national violence against women survey. Journal of interpersonal violence 26(11). 2228–2243.

–       Poorman, Paula B, Eric P Seelau & Sheila M Seelau. 2003. Perceptions of domestic abuse in same-sex relationships and implications for criminal justice and mental health responses. Violence and Victims 18(6). 659–669.