Guilty Until Proven Innocent

A women's group funded by the DOJ wants to turn "Innocent until proven guilty" on its head in sexual assault cases.

As #MeToo and #TimesUp have invaded national consciousness, a recent complaint filed against the DOJ shows the movement to transform investigations into sexual assault into victim centered exercises has been going on for some time. According to a complaint filed by the Center for Prosecutorial Integrity (CPI) the group End Violence Against Women International (EVAWI) has received at least 18 grants from the Department of Justice totalling millions of dollars. According to the EVAWI list, the first grant was given in 2004.

Now a group with the mission to end gender based violence doesn't sound objectionable on its face. However, once you peel back the onion, you discover that they are actually training law enforcement how to conduct investigations in sexual assault cases in a way that turns the concept of innocent until proven guilty completely around. They have developed an on-line training institute and have deployed their curriculum nationwide.

In just one manual cited by the CPI, Effective Report Writing: Using the Language of Non-Consensual Sex, the following five concepts are taught to investigators:

  1. The investigator is not an independent fact-finder, but rather is an agent of the prosecutor.
  2. All allegations are assumed to be true and the complainant should be regarded as a
    “victim.”
  3. The investigator should discount the possibility of a false allegation.
  4. Inconsistencies in the complainant’s statements occur rarely, and when they do, they should not be interpreted as evidence of a false claim.
  5. Exculpatory statements provided by the suspect should have little bearing on the findings
    of the investigative report.

Shorter version, the alleged victim always tells the truth even when they don't and the alleged suspect can say nothing to clear themselves that should be believed. Notice I said "alleged". That word does not appear anywhere in the manual and is fundamental to the idea of guilty until proven innocent.

Michelle Owens, attorney and spokesperson for Stop Abusive and Violent Environments (S.A.V.E), says this exact line of thinking is what has eroded the basic due process rights for young men on college campuses. The idea that it is being taught to law enforcement in the general public is very concerning.

According to Owens, "I spend so much time on college campuses proving young men are innocent because they are assumed to be guilty." This has dire consequences for young men as they are subject to the campus administrative process as well as the criminal justice system in some cases. The accused can be kicked out of school with a permanent record even if they are exonerated by the criminal justice system. There is also a significant incidence of suicide among those accused.

To put the same ideas about sexual assault investigations used on college campuses into the criminal justice system is extremely dangerous according to Owens. Proving a negative is not how our system is supposed to work. "You are essentially in the position of proving there is no evidence, which is very difficult to do."

She has also seen defense attorneys use the concepts of affirmative consent, which is not part of the criminal justice code regarding sexual assault, during trials. Thankfully, judges are not buying it and have not acted on it in cases she is involved with. However, she has seen prosecutors take cases that do not warrant prosecution due to political and social pressure.

Perhaps the CPI gives the most compelling reason to reject this instruction for law enforcement. According to the complaint:

Three decades ago, a veritable hysteria engulfed the United States, driven by claims of satanic child abuse practices in child care centers. Investigators were instructed to “believe the children” without scrutiny, engendering investigative methods that have been described as suggestive, coercive, and even harmful. Eventually, about 190 child care workers and parents were formally charged with sex crimes, and more than 80 were eventually convicted. Among these, 58 have now been exonerated, according to the National Registry of Exonerations.

Ironically, we are now witnessing a revival of the same investigative dogma, this time in the name of Start by Believing. The investigative concepts and methods espoused by End Violence Against Women International vitiate fundamental ethical principles of investigators, undermine citizens’ right to a fair and neutral investigation, threaten the integrity of judicial determinations, and make wrongful convictions more likely.

As with any over correction as a reaction a perceived problem, the upending of our most basic due process concepts should not be tolerated. The right to due process and the concept of "guilty until proven" innocent exist for a reason. No organization funded by taxpayer dollars should be working to undermine them in any way.

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