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Has EVAWI Been Moderating or Covering its Tracks?

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Has EVAWI Been Moderating or Covering its Tracks?
By James Baresel

February 16, 2021

In 2020 End Violence Against Women International (EVAWI) issued a revised version of its instruction manual Effective Report Writing: Using the Language of Non-Consensual Sex, an older edition of which had been in use since 2006. Both versions are based in a forensic assumption of guilt (consequent upon a prejudiced assumption of the veracity of complainants), moderation to which in the revised manual has been characterized by critics as “too little, too late.”

That, however, is something of an understatement. The truth is that the changes were not only made following years of criticism of EVAWI’s methods of investigation and report writing by legal experts, advocacy groups, academics and journalists The truth is that they were not only made after numerous court rulings in favor of due process. And the truth is that there is little reason to believe the changes do much more than (somewhat) hide the prejudiced and prejudicial nature of EVAWI’s methods from public view or a shift to more subtle ways of inculcating them.

Since EVAWI receives considerable support (both financial and otherwise) from the federal Department of Justice, and since the new presidential administration is the ideological successor to one that had a record of undermining due process, it will be useful to take a closer look at the history behind the changes to the above named instruction manual and its relationship to the practices of the organizations in question.

Founded in 2003, EVAWI purports to be an independent agency dedicated to fighting sexual assault. In that capacity it has received over $7.5 million from the Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women and provides training programs for police officers accredited both by the governments of ten states and by particular agencies within others []. But what it really does is attempt to instill a prejudiced assumption that complainants’ honesty is to be taken for granted, and, therefore, to substitute presumption of the guilt of those accused of sexual assault for forensic objectivity and the legal presumption of innocence.

Both versions of Effective Report Writing reveal the prejudiced nature of the methods advocated by EVAWI. Both teach investigators to document “suspect statements, especially those that corroborate the victim’s account or provide an implausible or even absurd version of reality.” To “especially” record statements by suspects that seem to corroborate the accounts of self-professed victims, rather than give due attention to statements that put the veracity self-professed victims’ accounts in question, is nothing other than deliberate misrepresentation. And while it might be reasonable to highlight claims impartial assessment has judged implausible, such impartiality is impossible if an investigator begins by assuming the veracity of complainants. Both version also insistent upon police reports presenting their accounts from the perspective of complainants rather than from that of a neutral third party.

Bad as this might be, the original manual contained particularly damning statements that were removed as part of the revision. The most serious of these was the instruction that, in order to “better support successful prosecution,” police investigators should “try to fill in details that are realistic, based on the kinds of sexual assault cases you have handled and the victims you have interviewed” as doing this will better “articulate the context of force, threat, or fear that the victim experience.” Detectives, in other words, are to state in their official reports that particular incidents of alleged sexual assault included actions which the complainants themselves never claimed happened but which, by being typical of the type of incidents alleged, and can communicate the “feeling” of such incidents.

While these statements are not found in the revised manual, the paragraph that followed them in the original remains unchanged and continues to refer to “‘missing information’ [details that are realistic] that is filled into the report.” It would seem that those receiving instruction from EVAWI are still taught to include made up “realistic details” in official reports despite the removal of such teaching from the written manual.

The history behind the changes to Effective Report Writing further suggest that they are little (if anything) more than cosmetic, designed to improve EVAWI’s public image or to hide evidence of its methods from the public and from government agencies. In February 2018 the Center for Prosecutor Integrity–an organization dedicated to defending due process–sent a letter to the Federal Department of Justice, informing it of the manual’s biases (1). The DOJ responded in May of the year, informing the CPI that its communication had been forwarded to Office on Violence Against Women (2), the DOJ department that funds EVAWI. Allowing for the time it would have first taken for the Office on Violence Against Women to analyze the complaint and to communicate with EVAWI and then taken for the EVAWI to act on any communications from the Office on Violence Against Women, the release date of revisions to Effective Report Writing suggest they were (at least partially) an attempt to counteract CPI criticism.

And that means that unless the DOJ and the Office on Violence Against Women possess “an implausible or even absurd” degree of naivety they must be willing to turn a blind eye to EVAWI’s attempt to hide its intentions from the public record