Rebecca Stewart: 513-479-3335


‘Start By Believing:’ Lawmakers Must Act Swiftly to Root Out Police Misconduct and Bias

WASHINGTON / February 25, 2019 – Following last week’s announcement of a settlement between the City of Charleston (SC) and a man who had been falsely arrested, the Center for Prosecutor Integrity is warning state legislatures to take steps to rein in use of “victim-centered” investigative methods that presume the guilt of the accused, downplay inconsistencies in witness statements, and bias the investigative report.

These “victim-centered” approaches are known by names such as “Start By Believing,” “believe the victim,” and “trauma-informed.”

Ethical codes require investigators to conduct their work with impartiality, objectivity, and honesty (1).  In contrast, Start By Believing instructs sexual assault investigators to begin the probe with “an initial presumption” of guilt, and then to (2):

  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 the City of Charleston case, the police detective had evidence that contradicted the complainant’s claim of sexual assault. But relying on “believe the victim” approaches, the detective had the man arrested (3).

On college campuses, judges continue to issue rulings against colleges for use of investigative procedures based on “victim-centered” methods (4).

Start By Believing endorses the use of “trauma-informed” investigations, despite the fact that a California Task Force has cautioned against the use of such methods (5).

The Center for Prosecutor Integrity’s White Paper, “’Believe the Victim:’ The Transformation of Justice” concludes “Start By Believing” concepts represent the “antithesis of the most rudimentary notions of justice.” (2). Over 150 professors and legal experts have endorsed an Open Letter opposing the use of “victim-centered” investigative methods (6).

The Center for Prosecutor Integrity urges lawmakers to restrict funding for police departments that use flawed “victim-centered” investigative methods.



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