Contact: Nasheia Conway
‘Believe the Victim’ Has No Place in a Criminal Trial:
CPI Calls for Fair and Objective Investigations in Sex Abuse Cases
WASHINGTON / January 4, 2018 – The Center for Prosecutor Integrity is today calling on prosecutors and investigators to end the use of biased “Believe the Victim” investigative methods in sexual assault and domestic violence cases. The CPI call follows reports of recent exonerations in which husband-and-wife defendants were wrongfully convicted based on flawed investigational methods.
Daniel and Frances Keller, former owners of the Fran and Dan Day Care Center in Oak Hill, Texas, had been accused of engaging in numerous acts of sexual abuse, allegations similar to those that engulfed the nation during the 1980s and 1990s. Following a massive investigation, both were convicted and sentenced to 48 years in prison. On June 19, 2017, Daniel and Frances Keller were exonerated.
The exonerations followed the recantation of Dr. Michael Nouw, the physician who had examined one of the female children and testified during the trial that she had been sexually abused. In addition, cemetery employees explained that evidence of fresh earth on graves had no connection to the alleged crimes. http://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/Pages/casedetail.aspx?caseid=5157
During the 1980s and 1990s, investigators were instructed to “believe the children” and urged to accept their claims without scrutiny. This investigational approach mushroomed into what was termed by the Washington Post as a “witch hunt.” https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/a-modern-witch-hunt/2015/07/31/057effd8-2f1a-11e5-8353-1215475949f4_story.html?utm_term=.34045a13ae52
CPI notes the irony of a revival of the “believe the victim” movement in recent years. One organization now instructs law enforcement officials to “start by believing” the veracity of a complainant’s allegation. https://cdn2.hubspot.net/hubfs/2783343/Action%20Kits/Law%20Enforcement%20Action%20Kit.pdf?t=1512601761726 The organization also instructs investigators to use “the language of non-consensual sex” and to “successfully overcome the three primary strategies used by the defense in a sexual assault.” http://www.evawintl.org/library/DocumentLibraryHandler.ashx?id=43 page 3.
In Canada, several recent cases involving men accused of sexual assault sparked complaints of bias against the defendant. Following the acquittal of three police officers, Justice Anne Molloy wrote in her 45-page ruling, “Although the slogan ‘Believe the victim’ has become popularized of late, it has no place in a criminal trial.” https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/toronto/decision-expected-in-trial-of-three-toronto-officers-accused-of-sexual-assault/article35918734/
Today the Center for Prosecutor Integrity is releasing a new White Paper, “’Believe the Victim:’ The Transformation of Justice.” The report traces the evolution of the “believe the victim” movement over the past decade and documents its incompatibility with recognized investigative methods that are premised on objectivity, neutrality, and fairness to both parties. http://www.prosecutorintegrity.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Believe-the-Victim-FINAL.pdf
Harvard Law School professor Jeannie Suk has described the believe-the-victim mantra as a “near-religious teaching” that is likely to harm rape victims. http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/argument-sexual-assault-race-harvard-law-school
The Center for Prosecutor Integrity works to strengthen prosecutorial ethics, curb over-criminalization, and bring an end to wrongful convictions.