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Truth-Telling Devices

According to the Violence Against Women Act and the U.S. Department of Justice Reauthorization Act of 2005 (VAWA 2005), truth-telling devices (e.g., polygraph tests, voice stress analysis) should not be used with sexual assault victims as a condition of charging or prosecution of an offense.

The general suspicion about the truthfulness of rape allegations and the motive of the person making them has been the basis for justifying the use of polygraph tests with people who report sexual assaults. Thus, before the VAWA 2005 provisions, victims of sexual assault were often given polygraph tests at various points of the investigation and prosecution of their claims.

VAWA 2005 amended the STOP Violence Against Women Formula Grant Program (STOP Program) and the Grants to Encourage Arrest Policies and Enforcement of Protection Orders Program to make it a condition of receiving funds under these programs that the jurisdiction prohibits the use of truth-telling devices on victims of sexual assault as a condition for investigating the offense. Beginning January 5, 2009, in order for a state or territory to receive funds under the STOP Program, they must certify that their laws, policies, or practices do not allow officials to ask or require that victims of sexual assault submit to truth-telling devices before investigations can proceed and that refusing to submit to such an examination does not prevent the investigation, charging, or prosecution of the offense.

The use of truth-telling devices often undermines the recommended best practice of using a victim-centered approach in a sexual assault investigation. If a victim refuses a polygraph test or fails it when she is in fact telling the truth and law enforcement decides to close the case, the effect is two-fold: assailants will not be held accountable and will thus be free to commit subsequent acts of sexual violence against other members of the community, and the victim's recovery will be compromised.