‘Start By Believing’ Investigations

“Blacks were found guilty upon mere accusation, with no substantive evidence offered, no adequate counsel granted, and no real attempt on the part of the courts to provide evenhanded justice.”  Jerrold Packard, American Nightmare: The History of Jim Crow. Page 133

BREAKING: The Center for Prosecutor Integrity has filed a complaint with the Department of Justice against the Start By Believing program. The complaint alleges the Start By Believing concepts and investigative methods:

“…abuse the mission of the Department of Justice, which states in part, “…to ensure fair and impartial administration of justice for all Americans.” Termed a ‘multimillion dollar threat to justice,’ they abuse the purpose and intent of Congressional appropriations. And they abuse the public trust, which is critical to the effective functioning of our criminal justice system.”

See entire complaint HERE.


An investigational approach known as “believe the victim” has become more widespread in recent years. Proponents of “believe the victim” ideology state that:

Advocates for “believe the victim” don’t use the words “complainant” or “accuser.” They only refer to “victims” and “survivors,” conclusory words that presume that a crime in fact did occur and serve to remove the presumption of innocence from the accused.

Read the CPI White Paper:  ‘Believe the Victim:’ The Transformation of Justice

Information on Believe the Victim investigations in campus sexual assault cases can be seen HERE.

‘Start by Believing’ Investigations

In 2011, End Violence Against Women International (EVAWI) launched a campaign dubbed Start by Believing, describing itself as a “global campaign transforming the way we respond to sexual assault.” The campaign developed a Law Enforcement Action Kit for investigators and other law enforcement personnel. The Kit makes biased statements such as:

  • “I am a criminal investigator…When someone tells me they were raped or sexually assaulted, I Start by Believing” (page 1)
  • “… the message of Start by Believing is so vital – [because] outcomes will only change when sexual assault reports are investigated from an initial presumption of merit.” (page 2)
  • “Start by Believing…is the starting point for a fair and thorough investigation.” (page 2)
  • “I pledge to Start by Believing when someone tell me about their sexual assault.” (page 2)

The Law Enforcement Action Kit links to a Training Bulletin: Start by Believing that openly promotes investigator bias, utilizes guilt-presuming terminology, and makes statements that are demonstrably false:

Investigator Bias

The Training Bulletin repeatedly instructs the investigator to “Start by Believing,” meaning the investigator should “operate from a starting presumption that the report has merit.” The Bulletin explicitly states, “[e]ven a ‘neutral’ stance will be insufficient to establish the trust and rapport victims need to share memories that are confusing, painful, or humiliating.”

Guilt-Presuming Terminology

In sexual assault cases, the question of innocence or guilt often revolves around determinations of consent, which can only be reached during the adjudication process. But the Training Bulletin never uses the words “complainant” or “accuser” – only “victim.”  Referring to the complainant as a “victim” before the investigation is completed serves to presume the guilt of the accused. In one notable decision, District Court Judge F. Dennis Saylor scolded an investigating party for its careless use of the word “victim:” “Whether someone is a ‘victim’ is a conclusion to be reached at the end of a fair process, not an assumption to be made at the beginning.”

False Claims

The Training Bulletin also makes the claim that “confirmation bias has long influenced the response of criminal justice professionals in the opposite direction,” i.e., in such a manner to disbelieve the claimant. This claim, which is not supported, is not truthful. Many of wrongful convictions of sexual assault and other crimes have been traced to detective bias favoring the complainant. One law review article concluded that police investigators typically “focus on the suspect, select and filter the evidence that will ‘build a case’ for conviction, while ignoring or suppressing evidence that points away from guilt.”

Ethical Codes

Prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, and jurors rely on evidence that is accurate, complete, and unbiased. And ethics codes require investigators to do their work in an impartial and honest manner:

Letters to Organizations