What Title IX Investigators Need to Know About Trauma

Understanding trauma is an incredibly important skill set for Title IX professionals. Knowing how a traumatic experience, especially one involving sexual misconduct, impacts parties allows investigators to better plan their investigation, prepare for their interviews, and assess credibility of those involved.

Although Title IX investigators don’t need to be trauma experts, they should at least be educated in trauma-informed care and how a traumatic experience could affect parties and witnesses.

Below are three ways trauma can impact individuals, as well as overall investigations:

Trauma can Impair Memory.

Trauma often impacts an individual’s ability to remember incidents.

For example, victims often recall memories non-linearly. Some memories are strongly encoded into the brain, while others fade altogether or are never remembered at all.

Recent studies suggest that fragmented memory after a sexual assault is not only possible, but common, and it’s critical that Title IX investigators consider this science when assessing credibility.

Trauma can Challenge Victim Stereotypes. 

A common-believed stereotype is that victims of sexual assault will always fight back, and if they don’t, it couldn’t have been assault.

This idea, however, is far from the truth.

During sexual assault or other trauma, individual responses can vary from “fight,” “flight,” or “freeze” (also known as “tonic immobility”), according to a 2017 study.

Investigators must abandon any bias around what they imagine is  a “proper” or “appropriate” response to the traumatic event and focus on the facts of their investigation.

Trauma can Cause Counterintuitive Behavior.

Victims of trauma can act in a counter-intuitive manner following the trauma. However, for someone who understands trauma implications, this behavior isn’t surprising.

For example, it might make sense that a victim would go to great lengths to separate themselves from their alleged perpetrator after a traumatic event. However, in many sexual assault investigations, the victim continues a relationship with the perpetrator for a host of reasons.  

Investigators must let go of expectations around victim behavior that could lead to biased conclusions and do their best to serve as trauma-informed professionals.

How We Can Help

For up-to-date information on all Title IX changes and how they affect you and your institution, join us for Title IX Thursdays on the first Thursday of every month.

For more information about our Title IX consulting services, including advising, hearing adjudication, and investigation, contact us at info@titleixconsult.com.