‘Victim-Centered:’ The Transformation of Justice

So-called “victim-centered” approaches represent an ambitious effort to transform the criminal justice process in order to vitiate the presumption of innocence, increase the likelihood of a conviction, and refocus the process on the mental health needs of self-identified “victims.” SIGN THE PETITION: ‘One of the worst days of my life:’ Stop Sham ‘Start By Believing’ Investigations

“Victim-centered” refers to the treating of a complainant “in a manner that is focused on the experience of the reported victim” (Section 303). “Victim-centered” involves the use of investigative and adjudication procedures that:

    • Presume the guilt of the defendant and refer to the complainant as a “victim”
    • Avoid asking probing or detailed questions in order to not “retraumatize the victim”
    • “Cherry-pick” the evidence in order to increase the likelihood of a finding of guilt
    • Reflexively attribute inconsistencies in the complainant’s statements to life-threatening trauma
    • Write the investigative report in a way to portray the sexual contact as non-consensual

“Victim-centered” is an umbrella term that includes such approaches as Start By Believing, Forensic Experiential Trauma Interview (FETI), and Trauma-Informed.

The core of “victim-centered” justice is a belief that persons who experience traumatic events such as sexual assault are unable to provide an accurate and coherent account of the incident, so any inconsistencies in the complainant’s account should be attributed to trauma. But research has reached the opposite conclusion, that victims of trauma usually have an accurate recollection of the event:

    • Richard McNally: “Extreme stress enhances memory for the central aspects of an overwhelming emotional experience.”
    • Sujeeta Bhatt and Susan Brandon: “There is some evidence that fear memories are richer in sensory details.”
    • Daniel Reisberg: “These data suggest that traumatic events are likely to be well remembered.”

Proponents of “victim-centered” justice also have claimed:

Clearly, the use of “victim-centered” methods represent a significant departure from traditional approaches to criminal investigations and adjudications.

More information:


Open Letter


Complaints to the Department of Justice

Since 2016, the Center for Prosecutor Integrity has filed six letters of complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice regarding its promotion of victim-centered methods:

  1. Letter of June 6, 2016 to the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services regarding its guidance, Identifying and Preventing Gender Bias in Law Enforcement Response to Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence: A Roundtable Discussion.
  2. Letter of February 1, 2018 to the Office of the Inspector General to investigate the DOJ’s abuse of taxpayer monies to support Start By Believing programs.
  3. April 3, 2019 letter to Attorney General William Barr, including Exhibits A to H, to investigate the DOJ’s failure to provide a substantive response to CPI’s February 1, 2018 complaint.
  4. Letter of May 20, 2019 to the Office for Victims of Crime regarding its sponsorship of an upcoming program on Law Enforcement Response: Approaching Your Work with a Trauma-Informed Lens
  5. Letter of August 1, 2019 to Attorney General William Barr regarding serious due process shortcomings of Trauma-Informed and Start By Believing Investigations
  6. Letter of November 4, 2019 to Attorney General William Barr asking, “Why is the DOJ Continuing to Promote ‘Trauma-Informed’ Theories That Have Been Repeatedly Refuted as Junk Science?”

SUCCESS: On July 8, 2021, EVAWI sent out a statement with the benign title, “Registration Fee Now Required for Webinars: All 2021 Virtual Conference Sessions Available.” The statement included the bombshell announcement that the Dept. of Justice has terminated its financial support for Start By Believing programs: