Reflections of an Investigator: Checking your Baggage at the Door

The following blog was written by Chelsea Jacoby, Ed.D, Director of Title IX Compliance and Sexual Misconduct and Title IX Coordinator at The College of New Jersey.  Chelsea is a consultant for Title IX Consult, LLC.

One of the biggest mistakes that can be made in and critically impact Title IX /sexual misconduct investigations is when investigators allow their own biases (implicit or otherwise) to cloud their judgments. It’s so important that investigators check their own baggage at the door and constantly engage in self-reflection, such as asking themselves (and challenging their co-investigator): “Why am I thinking x,y,z may be the case? Is it because the evidence is leading me there or is it because of my own biases in the form of personal identities, experiences, perceptions and/or societal norms?”

If left unchecked, these biases can be particularly detrimental when consciously or subconsciously evaluating someone’s credibility. As such, it’s critical that investigators consistently take the time to re-center themselves and maintain an objective lens. For example, text messages are often submitted as part of the investigative materials, but they very rarely offer the full context of the situation. If, when reviewing those text messages, the investigator says, “I think what they meant to say or were referring to was ______” – this would be the investigator’s own interpretation of the evidence and not what the evidence is explicitly indicating.  It is crucial to remember that our interpretation of the matter as investigators is inconsequential to this process. If we’re ever in those moments, I always encourage myself and my investigators to take a moment to remind ourselves that this process is not about us or our experiences, what we THINK may have happened, or how we believe we would have personally reacted in a similar situation.

Our role as investigators is to be neutral, objective fact finders who compile an investigative report that fairly summarizes all relevant information pertaining to the allegations outlined in the formal complaint. Our role is to explore all possible avenues to obtain relevant evidence, not our own personal perceptions or feelings towards the parties or witnesses or the information they provide. We should not have a vested interest in the outcome of the case but instead should have a vested interest in the process and make intentional efforts to ensure due process is offered at every step of the investigation in a way that is free of conflict of interest and bias.

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