Rebecca Stewart: 513-479-3335


‘Start By Believing’ Investigations May Result in a Proliferation of Wrongful Convictions

WASHINGTON / March 6, 2019 – The Center for Prosecutor Integrity is today issuing a warning to law professors and other legal professionals about the growth of “Start By Believing” and similar victim-centered investigative methods. Such investigations represent the “antithesis of the most rudimentary notions of justice,” according to a CPI White Paper (1), and increase the likelihood of a wrongful conviction.

To date, 58 persons who were convicted of crimes occurring during the child sex abuse “hysteria” in the 1980s and 1990s have been exonerated (2).  Many of these persons were wrongfully convicted as a result of the use of investigational methods grounded on the premise to always “believe the children.” During this era, children faced “leading and suggestive questioning by police and social workers” (3), creating compelling accounts that defendants found difficult to rebut.

Although the notorious era of child sex abuse hysteria has now come to an end, the “believe the children” philosophy is now seeing a rebirth in the current “Start By Believing” campaign (4). Funded by a series of Department of Justice grants, “Start By Believing” instructs sexual assault investigators to begin the probe with an “initial presumption” of merit, and then to (5):

  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: Investigators should focus on witness statements that serve to “corroborate the victim’s account.”

In contrast, ethics codes require investigators to conduct their work with impartiality, objectivity, and honesty (6).

On college campuses, judges continue to issue rulings against universities for use of investigative procedures based on victim-centered methods (7).

To date, over 150 law professors and other legal professionals have endorsed an Open Letter opposing the use of victim-centered investigative methods (8). Persons who wish to co-sign the Open Statement should send their name, affiliation, city, and state to



The Center for Prosecutor Integrity works to strengthen prosecutorial ethics, restore due process, and support criminal justice reform.