What Workplace Investigators Would Look For in Assessing Tara Reade's Allegations
In my May 18 post, I mentioned the controversy over the Tara Reade allegations against Joe Biden. One of the things that has fascinated me (and sometimes horrified me) about publicly vetted allegations of this type is how often the general public pursues the wrong thread, or emphasizes the wrong factors in assessing the allegations. So I want to start a series of discussions around the threads of the Tara Reade story.
Caveat: I am not attempting here to investigate the allegations. I could not possibly do that (or ethically do that, since I don't have direct access to witnesses, documents and other evidence). Instead, I am trying to help the public understand what kinds of things investigators would look for, and additional questions we would ask, before drawing conclusions about the veracity of the allegations.
In this assessment, I can only use what has been publicly reported. I can look at Tara Reade's statements, interviews she has offered, and interviews of other witnesses. But often, the original interview is not available in its entirety, so it is difficult to tell from edited versions or "summaries" or "quotes" what the witness actually said. This is because bias may flavor every single thing reported. You have all seen the assessments of media bias, and different outlets that apparently have different "leanings." Reading an interview summary from a new report on a site with a left lean may give you a very different feel than reading a summary of the same interview on a site with a right lean. So I attempted to look for news sources that are generally considered to be middle of the road sources, to cut out as much of the bias as possible. Investigators deal with this issue of bias quite often, so we are attuned to look for it. If I am asked to investigate the misconduct of a person about whom I have already formed an opinion of character, reputation for truthfulness, alignment of personal beliefs, will that impact how I investigate and report on my conclusions? I used this same kind of critical analysis.
Also, because this is not in itself an investigation, what I attempted to do was provide some insight into the kinds of factors investigators would weigh in assessing the allegations: opportunity to observe incidents; contemporaneous reports; corroboration; prior inconsistent statements; bias; plausibility; reputation for truthfulness; motivation for truthfulness. Because I am not interviewing witnesses directly, I do not have the opportunity to test some of these factors directly, or include other types of behavior that I might ordinarily include in my analysis, such as whether the witness appears to be avoiding certain subjects, or seems to be holding back.
The first factor I want to address is the importance of contemporaneous behavior of the complainant, in this case Reade. This is actually one of the first things that investigators might look for. We will ask questions like: "Who did you tell?" and "What did you do in response?" Then we will seek out those contemporaneous sources to determine Reade's behavior in response.
But we need to be careful here. Victims of harassing behavior and sexual assault behave differently from what you might expect. You might think to yourself, well, if I have been sexually assaulted I am going to immediately call the police, or in a workplace situation, I am going to complain to the executive. Most sexual assault victims do not do that. There are a variety of psychological reasons why this does not happen. They may fear no one will believe them, or that they will suffer retaliation, for example.
Reade reportedly told several people about the sexual assault close in time to the incident itself:
Biden's executive assistant, Marianne Baker:
Reade also says she filed a written complaint with the Senate personnel office.
Interviews have been conducted of the people Reade indicated she told, except one.
Marianne Baker: Baker issued a written statement about the Reade allegations: “In all my years working for Sen. Biden, I never once witnessed, or heard of, or received, any reports of inappropriate conduct, period — not from Ms. Reade, not from anyone.” This creates a conflict between Reade's version and Baker's version, which will have to be resolved by an investigator.
Reade's mother has passed away, so it is uncertain what Reade told her. Her mother did allegedly call in to a radio program, and the recording has surfaced, but she did not mention the sexual assault.
Reade's brother has been interviewed. There is some concern that his story has changed, in that he did not mention the assault in early interviews, but "corrected" the description in later interviews. This does not automatically mean he is lying, but is something to explore about his credibility. Did he forget about the assault? Did someone have to remind him to include it?
Friends have been interviewed and verified that they were told about the assault. Various stories have called into question whether their statements have been consistent throughout this process as well. For the same reasons as above, more information would be needed.
Another avenue an investigator would need to explore is how Reade reacted to the assault. A caution is necessary: Not all assault victims react in the same way you or I might think we would react. We need to discover and assess her actions in that context, but the basic question is: Are her actions consistent with finding that a traumatic sexual assault occurred? And in this circumstance the results are also mixed, as we see evidence that Reade did not immediately resign, and she continued to praise Biden throughout the years. She indicates that she filed a report within the Senate system, but she says she did not include the assault. Some of those factors may cause the investigator to lean in favor of questioning her credibility. As an investigator, I would carefully gather all of that information before drawing any conclusions about it. More on that later.