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PR: In Wake of Hobart College Ruling, Universities Should Re-think Use of ‘Trauma-Informed’ Methods

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Rebecca Stewart: 513-479-3335


In Wake of Hobart College Ruling, Universities Should Re-think Use of ‘Trauma-Informed’ Methods

WASHINGTON / July 1, 2021 – Last week, Judge Elizabeth Wolford ruled against Hobart College of Geneva, NY, denying the college’s motion to dismiss in a campus sexual misconduct case and allowing the lawsuit to move forward (1). Wolford also sustained the breach of contract complaint against CSC Investigations, which had investigated the allegation on behalf of the College.

The case arose from a late-night dormitory encounter between John Doe and Jane Roe in October, 2018 in which the female student removed the male plaintiff’s clothing and initiated the sexual contact. Nearly one year later, the female student filed a sexual misconduct complaint against Doe, claiming she was “blacked out on her bed” at the time.

The College contracted with CSC Investigations, located in Burlington, Vermont, to probe the case. As a result, Doe was expelled from the college in April, 2020. The following month, Doe filed a lawsuit against Hobart College.

On its website, CSC Investigations affirms its use of a trauma-informed approach (2):

“each of our investigators has received training in investigative interviewing, the effects of trauma, and the role that alcohol and drugs may play in incidents of alleged misconduct. CSC investigators have completed workshops at highly regarded educational institutions both in and outside of Vermont and attended the Trauma-Informed Sexual Assault Investigation and Adjudication Institute sponsored by the National Center for Campus Public Safety.” (emphases added)

The lawsuit claims the trauma-informed investigation:

  1. Altered or excluded key information provided by the accused student.
  2. Failed to conduct a follow-up interview of the accused student.
  3. Allowed the complainant — but not the accused student — to change her story to account for statements made by the accused.
  4. In the final investigative report, did not highlight the inconsistencies and contradictions in the students’ statements.
  5. Did not mention the existence of the video taken 20-30 minutes before the alleged assault showing the complainant to be awake, alert, and fully oriented.
  6. Afterwards, destroyed the audio recordings of the interviews.

The lawsuit concludes, “In sum, the entirety of the report was clearly written in such a way to bolster Roe’s claims and to completely obfuscate any evidence that might tend to weaken her credibility or support Plaintiff’s version of events.”

According to Andrew Miltenberg of Nesenoff and Miltenberg, which litigated the case, “This is an important decision in advancing the reality that the trauma informed approach is an inherently biased manner of investigating allegations of sexual misconduct. The fact that schools continue to use this approach is nothing short of stunning, and compromises the objectivity of the Title IX process.”

Following the judicial ruling against Hobart College, universities need to reconsider their use of controversial “trauma-informed” investigative methods that many believe lack a sound scientific foundation.