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Title IX Investigative Techniques Contradict Science, Say ISU Researchers

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Title IX Investigative Techniques Contradict Science, Say ISU Researchers

Two researchers from Iowa State University, philosophy lecturer and Title IX coordinator, Adrienne Lyles, and psychology professor Christian Meissner, researched the underlying scientific basis behind many common techniques taught in Title IX certification programs around the country, and found that the scientific basis for many of them “are at odds with the available science.”

Trauma-Informed Investigations

Title IX law lays out a number of duties that a publicly funded institution of education must meet when it comes to protecting their students against discrimination. These include not only the duty to investigate allegations of sexual assault, but the stipulation that “schools must understand and anticipate issues surrounding trauma in fashioning their investigations.” School officials tasked with handling these types of investigations must be trained on the effects of trauma, and the appropriate ways to communicate with potentially traumatized individuals. As a result, numerous Title IX certification programs have been started to provide that training.

These “trauma-informed” investigative techniques are meant to recognize, and be sensitive to, the different ways that trauma can affect different people. This approach takes the view that, since the brain becomes flooded with neurotransmitters and stress hormones during a traumatic event, this neurobiological stress activity can interfere with the trauma victim’s memory and rational thought process. Because of that, they may have difficulty recalling and describing the assault after the fact. 

Title IX investigators are trained to be sympathetic to the allegations, and to help the assault victim piece their memories of the traumatic event back together for the sake of testimony. Essentially, investigators are taught to see a difficulty recalling the details around the event, statements that contradict previous statements, a lack of physical resistance and other inconsistent aspects of a victim’s testimony that, in other situations could be seen as evidence against the allegation, as in fact evidence for the allegation. Title IX investigators are trained to believe the complaintents, even if they seem unreliable. 

That makes these types of investigations inherently unfair, since extra weight is given to the version of the events as told by the person making the allegation. This process can also turn into a situation where the investigator is actually coaching the complainant in the recalling of their story which, because memory can be very malleable, may result in a less than accurate testimony, influenced in part by the investigator.  

Junk Science?

The paper presenting the results from Meissner and Lyles was published in the journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, and joined a body of work used by journalist Emily Yoffe in an article for the Atlantic, criticizing the underlying science behind trauma-informed investigating. 

Yoffe’s criticism center’s around the claim that memory is impaired by the stress activity in the brain that these traumatic events stimulate. According to Harvard psychology professor, and a leading expert of the effect of trauma on memory, Richard McNally, the claim that stress hormones released in the brain during a traumatic experience impair memory, is not supported by the neuroscientific research. In fact, the research actually suggests the opposite, “extreme stress enhances memory.”

Title IX Training Programs

Certification programs for Title IX investigators are provided by a number of different companies. Companies such as Atixa for instance, who created the first-of-its-kind Title IX certification program. In many instances, the curriculum used in these certification programs is created by attorneys, and other legal experts, and the focus is on compliance with the law.

But attorneys and other Title IX certification experts aren’t psychologists, and these programs aren’t often created by experts with experience conducting investigations, so there isn’t necessarily a strong scientific basis for the techniques they teach. In fact, as Yoffe points out in her article, many of these techniques are based on work done by researchers who actually aren’t experts in neuroscience at all.

How a Title IX Attorney can Help

Title IX is an important and well intentioned effort to promote inclusion on college campuses, and to get justice for the victims of assault. But the numerous problems involved in how the law is exercised actually creates very real problems related to fair representation and due process that affect innocent people. 

Title IX investigations can have very serious consequences for the respondent, including expulsion from school and even criminal charges. Because of that, it’s important that the process be fair and just to all involved. 

If you are a Title IX respondent and are facing accusations, do not try to handle this matter on your own, you need experienced legal help. Perhaps you are totally innocent of the allegations, or perhaps you have an explanation which needs to be heard. An experienced attorney will fight to protect your rights and make sure your side of the story gets told.

Contact Mertes Law for Experienced Help Today

Mertes LawThe highly experienced Boulder Title IX defense attorneys at Mertes Law can handle any Colorado student school district conduct complaints, including those which involve assault and sexual conduct matters. We can help you fight these serious charges. Contact Mertes Law today at 303-440-0123, or by filling out the contact form today, and get the dedicated legal representation you deserve.  

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