How Trauma Rears its Head in Title IX Investigations

For Title IX investigators, a basic understanding of trauma and how it can impact an individual is a necessary part of your skill set. Investigators will utilize this information in planning the overall investigation, preparing for witness interviews, and analyzing important topics such as credibility.

The study of trauma is a multi-faceted discipline, and while Title IX investigators are not expected to become experts, they should be trained and educated about the impact trauma may have on both parties and witnesses in Title IX matters. Below is a brief list of potential areas where trauma may impact your investigation:

Memory – trauma often impacts an individual’s ability to remember incidents, and the trauma victim frequently recalls memories in a non-linear way with some memories being strongly encoded in memory and other peripheral memories fading from memory altogether.

Stereotypes on victim responses during a traumatic event – one stereotype applied to sexual assault cases is that a victim will always fight back. Conversely, it is incorrect to assume that without the victim fighting or challenging the alleged perpetrator, the incident may have been consensual. The trauma-informed truth is that individual responses to trauma often vary from fight, to flight, to freezing during the traumatic event.  Investigators must abandon any bias around what a “proper” or “appropriate” response to the traumatic event should be.

Counter-intuitive behavior following a trauma – victims of trauma often act in counter-intuitive ways following the trauma. For example, one may assume 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 may continue a relationship with a perpetrator for a host of reasons.  Investigators must let go of expectations around victim behavior that could lead to biased conclusions.