Report Says Title IX Investigators Use Ineffective Methods

Iowa State University Researchers Find Title IX Investigators Fail to Use Effective Methods

In a recent report published in the Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, Iowa State University researchers Christian Meissner and Adrienne Lyles compared science-based interviewing strategies with the techniques used by Title IX investigators and taught in their training programs. The researchers discovered that “the training was not comprehensive,” and in some cases “was very generic and not evidence- or research-based.” Additionally, many of the programs were focused primarily on avoiding litigation.

Lyles said the findings were consistent with her own experience as the Associate Director of Equal Opportunity, senior deputy Title IX coordinator, and associate philosophy professor at Iowa State. Meissner is a psychology professor who leads an international research team that develops interview methods for agencies such as the FBI and CIA. The goal of these methods is to reduce false confessions and effectively gather accurate and relevant information.

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Lyles and Meissner began working together to expose these weaknesses and eventually replace them with more effective methods. This is good news for complainant’s, as well those responding to complaints. As Lyles explained, Title IX procedures are meant to protect students from discrimination and harassment, but the process differs greatly from any criminal justice proceeding in a court of law. She emphasized the importance of impartiality when interviewing all parties.

In some of the training programs, Lyles and Meissner discovered a troubling phenomenon in which investigators used the accused person’s behavior during the interview as a valid source of evidence. According to the Iowa State researchers, there is “no scientific evidence that victims and perpetrators have different neurobiological responses to the same event.” This method is subjective by nature, and investigators need to instead use neutral and fact-based evidence throughout the procedure.

Suggestions from the Research Team

Current techniques in Title IX campus offices are both ineffective and problematic, and Lyles and Meissner provide a range of suggestions for future improvement.

The researchers’ primary recommendations include:

  • Obtaining thorough and detailed information during the first interview so the individuals do not need to repeat their stories. Repeated recall has been shown to alter memories.
  • Using open-ended questions (rather than leading questions) to remain unbiased.
  • Not presuming the accused person has committed the offense.
  • Assessing the credibility of the subject by verifying information gathered from unbiased sources (i.e. video surveillance and witnesses).
  • Building rapport and trust using an empathetic, nonjudgmental, and collaborative approach. This is a scientifically proven method of facilitating memory recall, reducing reluctance to cooperate, and encouraging honest communication.

Iowa State Title IX investigators currently use a standard practice guide to help them implement science-based interviewing strategies. Lyles and Meissner hope to encourage other colleges and universities to adopt similar practices. Ultimately, these strategies will help investigations arrive at the objective truth of any given situation, which will allow schools to adopt an appropriate course of action for both the complainant and the respondent.

Are You Facing Disciplinary Actions Because of a Poorly Trained Title IX Investigator?

The criminal justice system protects not only victims of crime but also the falsely accused. If you face criminal accusations in a court of law, you have the right to due process. This includes cross-examination of witnesses, the right of both parties to see valid evidence, and the standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. In a Title IX investigation and hearing, however, students may be disciplined without the rights they would normally be afforded in a criminal case. Instead, the standard of proof is a preponderance of evidence. Our attorneys at Parisi, Coan & Saccocio, PLLC are here to help protect your rights and clear your path to justice.