CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

"Professors and Legal Experts Call for End to Guilt-Presuming ‘Victim-Centered’ Investigations"

The press release is here, and the open letter here. Here's the release:

Today 137 professors and legal experts are releasing an Open Letter that calls on college administrators, lawmakers, criminal justice agencies, and others to promptly end the use of so-called “victim-centered” investigations. Such investigations are fundamentally flawed because they presume the guilt of the accused. The professors come from leading colleges and universities around the country.

The letter traces the source of the “victim-centered” approach to the early 1990s when advocates began to call for “swift and unquestioning judgments about the facts of [sexual] harassment without standard evidentiary procedures with the chant ‘always believe the victim.’”

According to a Human Rights Watch report, a “victim-centered” approach means the investigator assumes “all sexual assault cases are valid unless established otherwise by investigative findings.” The University of Texas School of Social Work’s Blueprint for Campus Police instructs investigators to anticipate legal defense strategies and urges that complainant inconsistencies be covered over by not recording a “detailed account of prior interview statements.” (1)

The Open Letter concludes, “By their very name, their ideology, and the methods they foster, ‘believe the victim’ concepts presume the guilt of an accused. This is the antithesis of the most rudimentary notions of justice. In directing investigators to corroborate allegations, ignore reporting inconsistencies, and undermine defenses, the ‘believe the victim’ movement threatens to subvert constitutionally-rooted due process protections.”

The use of biased victim-centered investigations on campus has given rise to numerous lawsuits by accused students alleging biased collection of evidence (2). In many cases, the judge has issued a ruling in favor of the accused student (3).

Victim-centered practices, sometimes referred to as “Start by Believing,” are becoming widespread in the criminal justice system, as well (4). In 2016 an Arizona governor’s commission issued a letter advising the state’s criminal justice agencies to reject “Start by Believing” investigative methods because their use “creates the possibility of real or perceived confirmation bias.” (5)

More information about “victim-centered” investigations is available (6). The Open Letter can be viewed online (7).

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While certainly most welcome, especially for anyone doing Title IX cases, it is strange that this group ignores the jurisdiction where this is most problematic, i.e., military courts-martial. This is somewhat telling considering that there are a number of signatories with military affiliations.

Posted by: Don Rehkopf | Feb 7, 2018 3:51:50 PM

This needs to take place nationwide. In any sex crime crime case the accused faces a difficult if not impossible battle. Once the case arrives at the jury trial stage, most prospective jurors whether they admit it or not, believe there is truth in the accusation or there would be not trial taking place. Add to that the fact that it is difficult at best to be able to present character witnesses for the defense (because "these crimes take place in privacy" and "rarely is there evidence of the alleged crime" and the odds of losing increase. "Believing the victim" reduces the chance for a complete, fair, impartial investigation of the allegations. How do you prove a crime didn't happen? Yet that is what the juries are searching for. Unfortunately, I have seen it happen.

Posted by: l mars | Mar 5, 2018 2:48:00 PM

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