Scholars denounce 'victim-centered' approach to sexual assault

  • More than 130 professor and legal experts have signed their names to an open letter calling for an end to "guilt-presuming methods" of handling sexual assault allegations on college campuses.
  • The letter argues that such a "victim-centered" approach presumes that even fragmented or inconsistent memories are true, creating an "irrefutable argument" against the defendant.

More than 130 professors and legal experts are calling on lawmakers and university administrators to end the use of “victim-centered” investigative practices.

The scholars voiced their concerns in a seven-page “Open Letter” last week, blasting the common reliance on “guilt-presuming methods” such as “‘victim-centered’ investigations, ‘trauma-informed’ theories, and the admonition to always ‘believe the victim.’”

"On college campuses, ‘believe the victim’ ideology is evidenced by the widespread use of ‘victim-centered’ investigations."   

[RELATED: Report: ‘Believe the victim’ mentality undermines justice]

“On college campuses, ‘believe the victim’ ideology is evidenced by the widespread use of ‘victim-centered’ investigations,” the letter states. “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 letter notes that the utilization of victim-centered investigations on college campuses “has given rise to numerous lawsuits by accused students alleging incomplete or faulty collection of evidence” and that the practice as a whole “has been roundly criticized.”

The document also analyzes concepts such as “trauma-informed theories” that are said to “represent an attempt to impute a veneer of scientific respectability to the broader ‘believe the victim’ movement.”

[RELATED: Male student sues Dartmouth over ‘sexual misconduct’ finding]

“In sum, under the umbrella of ‘trauma-informed’ theories, victims’ advocates not only recommend disregarding complainants’ inconsistencies or behavioral anomalies; they also insist such inconsistencies should be viewed as probative evidence of trauma,” the missive claims.

“Illogically, this interpretation precludes any consideration of a complainant’s incongruous statements or inconsistent behavior as evidence,” it elaborates, saying that this results “in an irrefutable argument that the victim’s fragmented or lost memories are certain evidence of trauma, with the implication that therefore the allegations are true.”

The Open Letter was published online by a criminal justice watchdog known as Stop Abusive and Violent Environments (SAVE). The organization has been active in campaigning against the “believe the victim” movement, and recently released a report detailing how the mentality "compromises the integrity of our entire legal system."

SAVE’s recent letter was signed by 137 professors and legal experts from around the country, including institutions such as Harvard Law School, the U. S. Naval Academy, and George Washington University.

[RELATED: Prof: Title IX harms both students and teachers]

As SAVE notes in its letter, such controversial disciplinary systems are already being tested in the courts as students fight back against the punishments that have been meted out without due process.

Just recently, a former Coastal Carolina University football player filed a lawsuit against the school for its handling of a rape accusation that got him kicked out by the university, a NBC affiliate WMBF News reported last week.

In that case, the plaintiff (John Doe) claims that a female companion was encouraged by her cheerleading coach to file sexual assault charges following a rendezvous that resulted in a third person being charged with third-degree sexual assault.

Although Doe was cleared by a student conduct panel and the Conway Police Department, a subsequent appeal was granted despite a lack of new evidence.

The appeal produced a different verdict, leading Doe to allege that the university’s policies “are set up to encourage and facilitate the reporting of false reports of sexual misconduct and/or other grievances without any recourse for the falsely accused.”

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Nikita Vladimirov
Nikita Vladimirov | Correspondents Editor

Nikita Vladimirov is a Correspondents Editor for Campus Reform. Prior to joining Campus Reform, he wrote for The Hill, where he extensively covered the latest political developments in U.S. and around the world. A 2016 national finalist for the Society of Professional Journalists' "Mark of Excellence Award," Nikita now resides in Washington D.C. and contributes to the Washington Examiner. His work has appeared on the front pages of The Drudge Report and The Hill, and has been featured by leading media organizations including Fox News, MSN, Real Clear Defense and many others.

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