A campaign to reframe how we think about the credibility of a survivor’s story.
One of the foundations of our court system is witness testimony. The opportunity for people with knowledge of events to recite facts, and the chance for the adverse party to cross-examine, is a fundamental part of the truth-seeking function of a trial.
Yet, it’s not uncommon for our systems to question whether a survivor of domestic violence or sexual assault is credible just because a witness doesn’t behave, or look, the way the court expects. NYLAG lawyers see it all the time.
Examples of how a survivor’s credibility is questioned.
Survivors are harmed by a lack of understanding about credibility. Here are some examples:
Legal experts expect “credible” witnesses to tell linear stories, but many survivors don’t remember traumatic events in that way. If a regular memory plays like a movie, traumatic memories, like domestic violence and sexual assault, play like a highlight reel of thoughts, sounds, feelings, as told through sensory details like sounds and smells. Ordinary details like dates and time likely don’t matter to one’s survival—so it’s not remembered, yet it’s the information our legal system seeks and relies on to assess someone’s credibility.
When recalling a traumatic event, a survivor may respond in unexpected ways. They may have a flat affect, tell their story in non-chronological order, and yes, they may even experience uncontrollable laughter. These are completely common reactions to recalling trauma.
“Assessing credibility must take into account that there is no such thing as a ‘typical’ survivor of domestic violence or sexual assault. Each person’s story, and reaction in telling it, is unique. Our legal system must approach each case without prior prejudices and expectations.”
-Lorna Zhen, Supervising Attorney
#IamCredible—We need your help.
At NYLAG, we advocate for our clients, explaining why reactions to trauma are different in every survivor and can show up in ways we don’t always expect. We continue to strengthen our efforts to provide trauma-informed legal representation because it is crucial for our clients’ paths towards self-determination, safety, and security.
We need your help to change how our society and courts think about credibility. Doing so could transform the justice system to better help survivors of domestic violence and their children. It can save lives.
Give today to support free trauma-informed legal services for survivors.
Share your stories using the hashtag #IamCredible.
Make #IamCredible a movement to reframe the conversation about credibility and domestic violence/sexual assault.