Cleveland, Ohio Juvenile Court Judge Alison Floyd is forcing sexual assault survivors to take a polygraph test before their attackers are sentenced. To date, at least four teenage girls have been ordered to do so. All have refused.
According to reports from the Cleveland Plain Dealer, even prosecutors see the problem. Ordering sex crime survivors to undergo polygraph testing exceeds judicial authority over victims, says Assistant County Prosecutor Nicole Ellis.
Plain Dealer reporters Rachel Dissell and Leila Atassi write that Judge Floyd also “ordered the teenage boys who were accused of rape and other sex crimes in those cases to undergo polygraph examinations as part of an assessment done before the teens would be sentenced.” Although the defendants have not objected, this raises procedural concerns about due process for teens in the legal system.
But back to the sexual assault survivors. Still not sure what the problem is? Here’s the breakdown:
• The judge’s order may violate Ohio’s rape shield law, which is intended to prevent courts from effectively trying the victim instead of the defendant.
• Forcing victims to take a polygraph test violates the federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).
• Polygraph testing can be intimidating for rape survivors who already have difficulty in coming forward. Cleveland Rape Crisis Center president and CEO Megan O’Bryan tells Ms.:
We want to create a culture where survivors are supported in coming forward. Forced polygraph testing sends a message that survivors’ stories are not believed.
This sort of order contributes to the fact that sexual assault is a vastly underreported crime. The National Center for Victims of Crime (NCVC) indicates that a mere 39 percent of rapes or sexual assaults are reported to law enforcement agencies.
Of those assaults reported, even fewer lead to convictions, partly because of extreme delays in testing rape kits. Yet, according to a 2009 publication by researchers from The National Center for the Prosecution of Violence Against Women, false reports of sexual assault are only between 2 to 8 percent. Ashleigh Klein, a Los Angeles-based sexual assault prevention educator, points out that polygraph testing adds to problem of discouraging reporting and encouraging misinformation. She tells Ms.:
In my work I repeatedly hear the myth that women lie about rape to get back at men or because they are embarrassed by what they have done. We know that this just isn’t true. Reporting a rape and having a rape kit exam done can be extremely devastating to someone who has just experienced trauma. A very small percentage of women would voluntarily go through this invasive process and not be telling the truth.
Clearly, when it comes to sexual assault, what’s needed is more streamlined criminal justice procedure, not further blockades to victim support. We hope Judge Floyd gets the message.
Read more on justice and law from Ms.