'Victim-centered' sex assault investigations designed to railroad accused
A new "victim-centered, trauma-informed" approach to handling campus sexual assault appears at first glance to be an improvement on the current model of allowing campus administrators to play police, judge, jury and executioner. But look deeper into the new guidelines and one will see that this is far from an improvement and more an attempt to railroad accused students while looking impartial.
The new blueprint, produced for the University of Texas System, will be used to train campus law enforcement officers how to adequately respond to accusations of sexual assault. This would give the investigations an appearance of legitimacy. But as I'll show, the training provided to these officers will make the investigations even less legitimate.
For starters, the blueprint identifies accusers as "victims" throughout, pre-supposing the truthfulness of their claims. It also includes a section claiming unfounded and false allegations are rare (the implication being that accusers should automatically be believed). I've detailed before how the "rare" statistics are faulty, but beyond that, fact finders are not to predetermine the outcome at the beginning of a case.
But the most egregious demand in the blueprint, noted by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education's Samantha Harris, is the requirement that police officers — who are supposed to be "neutral fact finders" — actively work to "anticipate" and "counter" defense strategies.
On page 65 of the document, officers are instructed on the types of defenses accused students will use and what evidence is needed to counter those defenses. Some of the advice is helpful to both the accuser and the accused, such as telling officers to "avoid short and vaguely written reports." But when it comes to the defense strategy of pointing out contradictions, the report takes a dangerous and unfair turn.
The blueprint first says to "accurately record the statements of the victim, suspect and any witnesses," but then tells officers to "reduce [the] number of reports prepared by investigators."
The blueprint tells officers to "avoid repeating a detailed account of prior interview statements and instead only record in detail the new information" in subsequent interviews with accusers and accused. Officers are also instructed to "avoid writing a detailed report for any witness already providing a detail report."
Conveniently, this part of the blueprint was prepared using information from victim's advocacy group End Violence Against Women International. Their voices should certainly be included in any effort to end sexual assault, but so should those of due process advocates and defense attorneys.
This kind of strategy is not "neutral"; it is designed to ensure that an accuser's changing story and contradictions won't become known to the defense. This is perhaps one of the best ways to prove one's innocence, and this document is removing that ability. As Harris said: "An investigator who is trying to anticipate and counter defense strategies in the course of his/her investigation is not acting as a neutral fact-finder — that is, someone who is trying to find out what actually happened." (Emphasis original.)
This same section insists that "inconsistencies and vagueness can become the facts of the case that lend support to the case as they can be a sign of trauma." Get that? Even if the accuser's story doesn't add up, they're telling the truth. In this way, there is no such thing as an innocent accused student.
This is further evidenced on page 97, when officers are told that an accused student who "appears to make more sense," should not be seen as credible.
Even worse, the blueprint purports to include "science" to inform police practices, but in this section includes a "study" claiming one-third of men would rape if they could. I already debunked this "study" twice, as it was conducted asking just 86 men if they would hypothetically commit a crime if they could get away with it. Ask a tiny sample of any population whether they would commit murder if they would get away with it, and see what the response is. It doesn't mean they actually would commit the crime, because they likely would be caught.
There is some good in this report. Police officers should be welcoming and supportive of accusers — they shouldn't interrogate them. But this blueprint is an attempt to turn campus police officers into the same ill-informed and due-process avoiding "investigators" as current campus administrators. Only this time, accused students would have even less recourse as the involvement of police officers would make the investigation appear more credible.
This guide has the potential to be very damaging to due process and the lives of innocent students railroaded by a campus culture seeking to show it is serious about campus sexual assault by throwing out anyone accused without allowing them to properly defend themselves.