Rebecca Stewart: 513-479-3335


CPI Commends Dept. of Justice for Cessation of Funding for Dishonest ‘Start By Believing’ Investigations

WASHINGTON / July 13, 2021 – Last week, it was announced that the Department of Justice has stopped its funding of so-called “Start By Believing” investigations. SBB methods have been criticized over the years for ignoring law enforcement ethical standards and violating defendants’ right to an investigation that is honest, impartial, and fair.

The announcement, issued by grantee End Violence Against Women International, stated,

“our last federal technical assistance (TA) grant ended in May 2021. These TA grants have been supporting the training and technical assistance programs many of you depend on. Unfortunately, the most recent round of 2021 solicitations did not include similar funding opportunities that we could apply for.” (1)

Ethical codes require investigators to conduct their work with honesty and objectivity (2).  In contrast, Start By Believing instructs sexual assault investigators to begin their probe with “an initial presumption” of guilt, and then to (3):

  1. Make the sexual encounter appear to be non-consensual by making the complainant “appear more innocent.”
  2. Conceal inconsistencies in the complainant’s statements “by not writing a detailed report for any victim or witness who has already provided a detailed, written summary of events.”
  3. Slant the report to increase the chances of a conviction: Investigators should focus on witness statements that serve to “corroborate the victim’s account.”

Over the years, EVAWI has received $9.5 million in grant funding, mostly from the Department of Justice (4). Since 2018, the Center for Prosecutor Integrity has sent five letters of complaint to the DOJ for its support of Start By Believing and trauma-informed methods (5).

Biased investigations and manipulation of evidence are known to have a disparate impact on Black male defendants, increasing the likelihood of a wrongful conviction (6). Over the years, dozens of editorials have been published strongly critical of guilt-presuming methods such as Start By Believing (7).

Over 5,600 persons have signed an online petition calling for an end to “victim-centered” investigations (8). Police officers who rely on guilt-presuming investigative methods run the risk of being placed on a career-ending Brady list (9).

The Center for Prosecutor Integrity notes that the DOJ continues to promote problematic “trauma-informed” investigative methods (10). CPI strongly urges the Department of Justice to promptly terminate its support for such biased and unethical approaches.