Utah Considers Ending Use of Polygraph Tests for Sexual Abuse Victims

Utah is on the verge of becoming the 24th state to discontinue the use of polygraph exams, commonly known as “lie detector tests,” for sexual abuse victims. State Representative Angela Romero has introduced a bill, titled “Limitations on the Use of Polygraphs,” which aims to end the practice in cases of sexual assault. The bill has undergone review by the Utah House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee and is expected to receive its final readings before the legislature this week.

Romero argues that polygraph tests can deter victims from reporting sexual assault, as they may feel discouraged and disbelieved. This sentiment is echoed by counselors who work with sexual abuse survivors. Sonya Martinez-Ortiz, Executive Director of an organization that supports abuse victims, highlights that survivors are still being asked to undergo polygraph exams by law enforcement. Given that approximately 80% of abuse cases go unreported in Utah, subjecting survivors to such tests only adds another obstacle to seeking justice.

The American Psychological Association (APA) states that the term “lie detector” is a misnomer when referring to polygraph tests. These tests measure physiological indicators such as heart rate, respiration, and skin conductivity to identify potential deception. However, Martinez-Ortiz points out that questioning survivors about their traumatic experiences can naturally cause fluctuations in these indicators. Therefore, it becomes challenging to distinguish between stress reactions to reliving trauma and actual lies. The APA further notes that polygraph tests are not usually admissible in court due to their lack of accuracy.

Martinez-Ortiz emphasizes that survivors often face disbelief and skepticism, which can discourage them from reporting their abuse. Asking them to undergo polygraph tests reinforces the assumption that they need to prove their credibility at every step. Additionally, inconsistencies in how sexual assault cases are handled across Utah can contribute to survivors’ lack of trust in the justice system. Martinez-Ortiz suggests that providing support from friends, family, and confidential victim advocates can increase the likelihood of survivors reporting their abuse and receiving necessary medical examinations.

Representative Romero’s bill is part of her broader initiative, Start By Believing, which aims to reform state policies regarding sexual assault. She has been collaborating with law enforcement to ensure that survivors feel believed when they come forward to report their experiences.

Author: CrimeDoor

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