Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Polygraphing of Victims

from Megan O'Bryan, President and CEO

Cleveland Rape Crisis Center works to advocate for a criminal justice system that supports survivors of sexual violence who have the courage to come forward and report the crime to law enforcement.

Unfortunately, even in 2010, we have a confusing system and one that often re-victimizes survivors. Only 20-40% of sexual assaults are ever reported to police. A system that is unfriendly to survivors contributes to this alarming statistic.

Last week Cleveland Rape Crisis Center confirmed that Juvenile Court Judge Alison Floyd is using a practice that is counter to victims being supported and believed, the polygraph test. The judge has asked four sexual assault victims to submit polygraphs, even after their attackers had been found delinquent (or guilty). The teens have not followed through on the judge’s order. Regardless of the verdict this is a practice that CRCC opposes.

First asking sexual assault victims to undergo a polygraph violates federal law mandated within the 2005 Violence Against Women Act. By doing so, Judge Floyd is actually putting Cuyahoga County at-risk of losing federal dollars for local law enforcement and even Cleveland Rape Crisis Center. Communities had up until last year to come into compliance with VAWA and end the practice of polygraphing victims.

Philosophically this practice tells victims that as criminal justice authorities we don’t believe your story. It can cause anxiety for victims causing them to decide to recant or not cooperate with the process. Polygraphing continues the pervasive myth that sexual assault survivors lie, when in fact studies show that only 4% of cases are unfounded. (This percentage is on par with other crimes.) The publicity about this practice may discourage other survivors from coming forward.

Fortunately, there has been an outcry about this outdated and unsupportive practice. CRCC has been asked to comment on this problem for The Plain Dealer, Channels 3 and 19, and Ms. Magazine’s blog. We will continue to speak out to the media and the community against polygraphing victims, and we hope you will, too!

Interested in the references Megan made above? Check them out here ...

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