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EVAWI > Resources > Best Practices > FAQs > Sworn Statements
Q Do I need to get a sworn statement from the victim at the conclusion of the interview?
A Do I need to get a sworn statement from the victim at the conclusion of the interview?

No, you do not need a sworn statement from a victim of sexual assault, or any other witness. Although some law enforcement agencies have a policy or practice of getting a sworn statement from all sexual assault victims – and many sincerely believe they need one – there is no legal requirement for it and no obvious advantage in terms of prosecutorial strategy. The reality is that a case will be successfully prosecuted based on the strength of the evidence – if the investigative findings establish a body of evidence to corroborate the victim’s statement, this will be far more powerful and persuasive to jurors than a signature on a form. Conversely, the victim’s sworn statement alone will not be sufficient to successfully prosecute a case of sexual assault, if there is no evidence based on a solid investigation.

In fact, not only is there no clear advantage for this practice, there are a number of very critical disadvantages. First, requiring victims to sign a sworn statement typically means that the investigator must complete the statement, type it up, and get the victim to sign it before she/he leaves. For a number of reasons, this seriously limits the investigator’s ability to conduct a successful interview. If investigators are expected to take notes and write a report during the interview, they cannot take the time they need to focus on listening and asking good follow-up questions– let alone digesting, processing, analyzing, and compiling the information and producing a report that is well written and likely to support successful prosecution. Common sense suggests that a better strategy is to allow investigators the time they need to conduct the best possible interview and thorough documentation.

Second, asking victims for a sworn statement negatively affects the rapport that is key to establishing a successful working relationship between the victim and investigator. The practice communicates a fundamental distrust in the victim’s information, and it is frankly frightening to many victims. This is especially true when the statement includes a perjury clause, requiring the victim to sign a statement affirming that the written information is accurate under penalty of perjury. Given the well-documented effects of trauma on memory and recall, the reality is that any statement made by a victim in the aftermath of a sexual assault is almost certain to contain information and potential inaccuracies. These issues are explained in detail in an article entitled, Incomplete, Inconsistent, and Untrue Statements Made by Victims: Understanding the Causes and Overcoming the Challenges.

Then there is the additional concern that the investigator has recorded something incorrectly, and the victim did not catch it before signing the sworn statement. Of course, the likelihood of such inaccuracies – both on the part of the victim as well as the investigator – is only increased by the fact that this practice makes the interview process longer and more difficult for both individuals. In other words, this practice creates a situation that virtually guarantees inaccuracies in the victim’s statement, and then the person is asked to sign a statement under penalty of perjury that it is accurate.

The use of a sworn statement also makes it extremely difficult to correct inaccuracies when they are identified. Without such a sworn statement, it is a rather straightforward matter to come back to the victim with follow-up questions to clarify any inconsistencies, omissions, or even untrue details. (We address this issue as well in the article on Victim Statements.) However, once the victim has signed such a statement, she/he is faced with two terrible choices: continuing to “lie” or committing perjury.

The practice also makes it more difficult to add information later, when the victim recalls additional details and/or the investigator conducts a follow-up interview as part of a thorough and evolving investigation. At any point in time, a victim is generally relaying the information that is important to them and what they are able to recall at that time. Victims will often recall additional information at a later time, and even at unexpected times. Memories are often triggered, by sounds, sights, and smells, and the investigator should record this additional information to strengthen the case. With a sworn statement, it can look as if this natural process of recalling additional information somehow raises questions about the accuracy of the initial statement and victims are rightly worried that they could potentially be charged with perjury if they contradict something they previously said to the investigator.

How does any of this help us to meet the goal of successfully and prosecuting sexual assault? It does not. In fact, it makes this goal more difficult to achieve, by creating barriers and solidifying the fears that keep many victims from engaging the criminal justice system. This is especially true when victims are required to sign a sworn statement at the conclusion of their interview, but would be true to a lesser degree even if they were asked to sign the sworn statement at a later point in time.

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