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Professors warn ‘believe the victim’ in Title IX is bringing back ‘satanic daycare’ panic

‘Ideological biases are particularly ubiquitous in the campus setting’

In the 1980s it was “we believe the children.” In the 2010s it’s not a statement, but an order: “Believe the victim.”

More than 130 professors and legal experts are warning that increasingly popular techniques and theories in Title IX investigations are setting up America for a rerun of the “satanic daycare child abuse” panic of 30 years ago.

They include Harvard law professors Janet Halley and Elizabeth Bartholet, who signed a letter with other Harvard law colleagues asking for the federal government to guarantee due process to accused students.

Among law professors from Notre Dame, the University of Texas and University of Pennsylvania is another who has personally gone through a Title IX investigation: Howard University’s Reginald Robinson, for an exam question about a Brazilian wax.

Their open letter is sponsored by the due process advocacy group Stop Abusive and Violent Environments, which has previously sounded the alarm on accuser-focused proceedings.

Harvard uses a ‘sixth grade level summary of selected neurobiological research’

Across 13 pages and 53 citations, the professors and legal experts argue that “victim-centered” investigations and “trauma-informed” theories are a direct attack on constitutional due process.

They are the outgrowth of the 1980s “witch hunt” against daycare workers, which was prompted by “fear of crime; the decline of respect for traditional authority; homophobia (being gay helped send some day-care workers to prison); [and] the conservative backlash against feminism,” according to a 2015 book on the phenomenon.

The signatories trace the roots of “believe the victim” – which conflates “psychological treatment” with “adjudicative contexts” – to the early 1990s, soon after the daycare panic ebbed.

But the concepts fully flowered in a victim-rights group’s 2006 manual that explicitly instructs investigators to pursue a “successful prosecution” and undermine “potential defense strategies,” without regard for objectivity or finding the truth.

“Ideological biases in favor of alleged sexual assault victims are particularly ubiquitous in the campus setting,” they write, citing a University of Texas “blueprint” that explicitly tells investigators not to record “a detailed account of prior interview statements,” so as to preempt “inconsistencies.”

MORE: Howard still endangering law prof for ‘Brazilian wax’ question

Trauma-informed theories purport to add a “veneer of scientific respectability” to the belief-over-truth movement, drawing their authority from a heavily scrutinized 1974 survey that purported to establish “rape trauma syndrome,” the signatories write.

Supporters of these theories ignore the methodological problems in the survey and subsequent contrary psychological research that concludes “extreme stress may actually enhance the subsequent recall of stressful incidents.”

That hasn’t stopped the nationwide adoption of training regimes based on trauma theories:

Harvard law professor [and signatory] Janet Halley has ridiculed the trauma-informed training employed by her university, noting the materials provide a “sixth grade level summary of selected neurobiological research” and are “100% aimed to convince them to believe complainants, precisely when they seem unreliable and incoherent.”

The signatories note these techniques and theories have spread into the criminal justice system, resulting in occasional pushback: Arizona explicitly warned prosecutors in the state to avoid the “Start by Believing” program because it encourages “confirmation bias” and could undermine prosecutions.

Dozens of professors, legal experts issue warning against ‘victim-centered’ investigations by The College Fix on Scribd

‘Antithetical to the values underlying our free and democratic society’ (Canada)

They went north of the border to explain the danger of “believe the victim,” quoting a Canadian court ruling that exonerated three police officers of sexual assault last summer.

The alleged victim’s claims about her “memory blackouts and loss of consciousness” were undermined by her toxicology report, which suggested she couldn’t have blacked out, as well as surveillance video that showed no impairment shortly before the alleged assault.

Canadian Justice Anne Molloy specifically rejected demands to use “believe the victim” in a crminal trial:

To approach a trial with the assumption that the complainant is telling the truth is the equivalent of imposing a presumption of guilt on the person accused of sexual assault and then placing a burden on him to prove his innocence. That is antithetical to the fundamental principles of justice enshrined in our Constitution and the values underlying our free and democratic society.

MORE: SAVE launches ‘End Kangaroo Courts’ campaign

One of the signatories, James Moore of the University of Southern California, told PJ Media his interest in Title IX and the Obama administration’s since-rescinded “Dear Colleague” letters was sparked when he served as vice dean of engineering:

From 2011 to 2017, concerned parents increasingly phoned him, asking if USC would ever consider accepting students who had been forced out of their previous school due to a sexual misconduct allegation. …

There’s a lot at stake if a student gets suspended over a wrong accusation, he adds. Many schools, like USC’s Engineering School, won’t accept transfer students if they find out they’ve been expelled for sexual misconduct at their former school.

“It is not quite an economic death sentence, but it is close. The stakes are very high for students who are expelled, far higher than is widely understood,” Moore added.

Another signatory, evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller of the University of New Mexico, told PJ Media that “victim-centered investigations often end up being racially biased, and often impose unjust punishments on students of color.”

Read the letter and PJ Media article.

MORE: Arizona warns prosecutors to avoid ‘Start by Believing’

IMAGE: Tyler Olson/Shutterstock

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Greg Piper served as associate editor of The College Fix from 2014 to 2021.