Contact: Rebecca Stewart

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As Sexual Assault Scandal Envelops England, #StartByBelieving Gains Momentum in US

WASHINGTON / April 9, 2018 – This past week, #StartByBelieving Day was observed in the United States on April 4 (1). The day featured Proclamations issued by lawmakers, testimonials from law enforcement officials, and students displaying “Start By Believing” placards (2).

Ironically, #StartByBelieving Day fell on the same week that an emerging sexual assault investigative scandal reached a climax in the United Kingdom. On April 1, Alison Saunders, head of the Crown Prosecution Service, announced the decision to resign from her high-profile position. (3).

Saunders had instituted a number of controversial policies such as instructing detectives to routinely “believe the victim” in sexual assault cases. Last Monday, The Times announced, “Metropolitan Police ditches practice of believing all victims.” (4) Police also were withholding exculpatory evidence from defense attorneys, leading to numerous mistrials and a public outcry.

Alison Saunders and #StartByBelieving both espouse a so-called “believe the victim” philosophy. In the past, detectives in both the US and England were ethically bound to act as impartial and neutral fact-finders. In contrast, “believe the victim” ideology urges investigators to make promises to complaints such as, “we will bring you justice.” (5)

#StartByBelieving also emphasizes the need for investigative report-writing approaches that will “successfully support the prosecution of sexual assault cases.” In the words of #StartByBelieving documents, this means to draft the investigative report to “always use the language of non-consensual sex,” even if the evidence indicates the sexual contact in fact was consensual. Detectives are urged to downplay inconsistencies in the complainant’s statements (6).

In a recent opinion, Canadian Superior Court Justice Anne Malloy wrote: “Although the slogan “Believe the victim” has become popularized of late, it has no place in a criminal trial.” (7)

In an era when the public is becoming increasingly concerned about unethical legal conduct and wrongful convictions, the Center for Prosecutor Integrity urges American prosecutors and law enforcement personnel to adhere to ethical codes that will ensure honest, neutral, and objective investigations, and to abandon the use of guilt-presuming #StartByBelieving methods.





The Center for Prosecutor Integrity works to strengthen prosecutorial ethics, curb over-criminalization, and bring an end to wrongful convictions.