Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Barbaric penile plethysmography testing (requiring the subjects to masturbate) motivated by a desire to humiliate male sex offenders

We hear about so many terrible injustices in writing this blog that we've developed a relatively high threshold for being thoroughly disgusted. What disgusts us most are government policies that endanger the liberty of men and boys, or otherwise chip away at their rights. The subject of this post thoroughly disgusts us.

Men accused of rape are often subjected to polygraphs as a condition to having even flimsy charges dropped. (Rape accusers are, of course, legally exempted from taking them.)  Moreover, polygraphs are routinely used to insure that sex offenders, predominantly male, are adhering to the terms of their probation, and a refusal to take the polygraph will land the refusing party in jail.

But there is something far more invasive that men and boys convicted of sex offenses are forced to endure as a condition of their probation:   penile plethysmograph testing, clinically called "PPG" testing and non-clinically called "Peter Meter" testing.  In PPG testing, men and boys are subjected to a sort a junk science polygraph of their penises, which typically requires them to masturbate (and no, I'm not making that up).

PPG testing is a procedure that "involves placing a pressure-sensitive device around a man's penis, presenting him with an array of sexually stimulating images, and determining his level of sexual attraction by measuring minute changes in his erectile responses." Jason R. Odeshoo, Of Penology and Perversity: The Use of Penile Plethysmography on Convicted Child Sex Offenders, 14 Temp.Pol.&Civ.Rts.Rev. 1, 2 (2004). Such testing has become routine in adult sexual offender treatment programs, with perhaps 25 percent of adult sex offender programs employing the procedure to varying degrees. It is often imposed as a condition of supervised release (probation), and is used to determine treatment and even as a basis to decide whether someone should be released from custody or from a treatment program. The device is routinely used at civil commitment facilities where thousands of sex offenders are confined or restricted beyond their prison terms under civil commitment laws on the books in numerous states. And, yes, boys as young as twelve are sometimes subjected to the procedure.

I can assure you that many an innocent man or boy has been forced to endure this humiliating procedure. It is also wrong, by any measure, that men and boys who were properly convicted of sex offenses are forced to tolerate a procedure that a witch doctor would feel comfortable with just to achieve his liberty. It is well to note that results of such testing are not admissible in criminal trials because the testing is considered unreliable due to the absence of standardization, results that are not sufficiently accurate, results that are subject to faking and voluntary control by test subjects, the high incidence of false negatives and false positives, and the fact that results are open to interpretation.  Yet, this horrid device is allowed to be used to affect the liberty of significant numbers of men and boys. And hardly anyone gives a damn.

Ask yourself whether women's groups would tolerate a procedure that forces women and girls to masturbate as a condition of their probations. The question scarcely survives its statement.

Let's describe the "testing" by quoting extensively from a law review article written by someone familiar with it. Read this, and remind yourself that you are not reading "Clockwork Orange" or some erotic science fiction:

Sex offenders may be required to undergo PPG examinations during various phases of the criminal justice process. For example, when an individual is convicted of committing a sex crime and sentenced to a term of imprisonment, he may be required by prison authorities (on pain of losing various inmate privileges) to participate in a sex offender treatment program of which PPG is a component. Similarly, when a convicted sex offender becomes eligible for parole, a court may condition his release into the community upon his willingness to undergo periodic PPG examinations. In some cases, probation or pretrial services recommends the test; in others, the test is recommended by clinicians working in court-ordered treatment programs. The procedure can cost up to $ 1000 per session to administer, and subjects are typically required to pay the expense. The number of sessions and the intervals between them varies from one defendant to the next.

PPG examinations are customarily performed in a prison or, particularly in the case of parolees, in privately-operated treatment facilities under contract with government probation services. The degree of privacy afforded to subjects during the procedure varies considerably. In many cases, those undergoing the test are stationed in a private room and cannot be seen by the clinician. Communication is maintained via microphone. In other cases, subject and clinician are separated only by a curtain. Still other researchers suggest that it is optimal for the administrator to be able to monitor the client through a window or one-way mirror during testing. In rare instances, administrators have apparently even attempted to videotape the procedure.

Prior to beginning the test, the subject is typically given instructions about what the procedure entails. He is then asked to place the device on his penis and is instructed to become fully aroused, either via self-stimulation or by the presentation of so-called "warm-up stimuli," in order to derive a baseline against which to compare later erectile measurements. After the individual returns to a state of detumescence, he is presented with various erotic and non-erotic stimuli. He is instructed to let himself become aroused in response to any of the materials that he finds sexually exciting. These stimuli come in one of three modalities - slides, film/video clips, and auditory vignettes - though in some cases different types of stimuli are presented simultaneously. The materials depict individuals of different ages and genders - in some cases even possessing different anatomical features - and portray sexual scenarios involving varying degrees of coercion. The stimuli may be presented for periods of varying length - from mere seconds to four minutes or longer.

Changes in penile dimension are recorded after the presentation of each stimulus, and can be measured in multiple ways: either in terms of milliliters off baseline, percentage of full erection, or in terms of z-scores. The plethysmograph is capable of measuring changes in tumescence long before the subject himself becomes aware of them. It is very rare for a subject to become fully aroused during an examination. Instead, an increase of about forty percent is considered to indicate a high degree of attraction. An increase of less than ten percent, on the other hand, is typically considered statistically insignificant. In this way, the plethysmograph provides a detailed profile of a person's sexual desires: his level of attraction to men and/or women, to boys and/or girls of various ages, as well as to different forms of sexual coercion and violence.

J. Odeshoo, Of Penology and Perversity: The Use of Penile Plethysmography on Convicted Child Sex Offenders, 14 Temp. Pol. & Civ. Rts. L. Rev. 1 (2004).

A female judge writing for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in United States v. Weber, 2006 U.S. App. LEXIS 15111 (9th Cir. 2006) wrote: ". . . this test is not a run-of-the-mill medical procedure. Plethysmograph testing not only encompasses a physical intrusion but a mental one, involving not only a measure of the subject's genitalia but a probing of his innermost thoughts as well." She also wrote: "It is true that cavity searches and strip searches are deeply invasive, but [plethysmograph testing] is substantially more invasive. Cavity searches do not involve the minute monitoring of changes in the size and shape of a person's genitalia. Nor do such searches last anywhere near the two or three hours required for penile plethysmography exams. Nor do cavity or strip searches require a person to become sexually aroused, or to engage in sexual self-stimulation."

Did you get that? Two to three hours for the testing.

Judge John T. Noonan wrote separately in the same case and eloquently said the following: ". . . the Orwellian procedure at issue to be always a violation of the personal dignity of which prisoners are not deprived. The procedure violates a prisoner's bodily integrity by affecting his genitals. The procedure violates a prisoner's mental integrity by intruding images into his brain. The procedure violates a prisoner's moral integrity by requiring him to masturbate.  By committing a crime and being convicted of it, a person does not cease to be a person. A prisoner is not a mere tool of the state to be manipulated by it to achieve the purposes the law has determined appropriate in punishment. The prisoner retains his humanity and therefore has purposes transcending those of the state. A prisoner, for example, cannot be forced into prostitution to aid the state in securing evidence. A prisoner, for example, cannot be made to perjure himself in order to assist a prosecution. Similarly, a prisoner should not be compelled to stimulate himself sexually in order for the government to get a sense of his current proclivities. There is a line at which the government must stop. Penile plethysmography testing crosses it."

The men subjected to it describe it as "humiliating."  See here: http://www.seattlepi.com/local/388073_sexoffenders17.html.  In prison, the humiliation factor is even greater.  One prisoner described being taken into a room where he "was made to sit in a chair naked from the waist to the knees. A clamp was put on -- midshank on the penis" and then he was forced to listen to an audio description of vile, disgusting sex scenes. Inmates who refuse to participate are transferred to the maximum-security area, where more violent and dangerous inmates are held, and the parole board discriminates against convicted sex offenders who do not complete the program. See here: http://www.pitch.com/2000-10-05/news/the-penile-system/.

In Canada, boys as young at twelve had been subjected to it for twenty years until the government put the kibosh on it. The tests  involved attaching a penile plesthysmograph to adolescent boys' penises to measure sexual responses. The youths, aged 12 to 17, were shown photographs of naked or semi-naked adults, children and infants. The government "nipped the program after learning about the creepy Clockwork Orange nature of penis-measurement science, alongside revelations of a Youth Services medical technician charged with an unrelated sexual offense." http://bulletproofcourier.blogspot.com/2010/07/mary-polak-peter-meter-permanently.html.  See also here: http://www.upi.com/Top_News/World-News/2010/07/29/British-Columbia-re-examines-sex-test/UPI-77281280439622/#ixzz1BOfeapCl

So what's really behind this nonsense?  Obviously, financially interested companies that make the machines and administer the testing want to see it continue.  The feminist community that dominates the public discourse about rape and sex offenses seems to have precisely zero concern about this method of controlling male sexuality. Law and order types are just fine with it.

But how on earth does a supposedly civilized society tolerate it?  Let us again quote Mr. Odeshoo's article:

Perhaps the decision to require PPG examinations is driven by motives and factors generally unacknowledged by its proponents. Indeed, one might wonder whether some authorities require PPG tests precisely because of the procedure's unpleasant character. Some, for example, might regard the humiliation and embarrassment that the procedure involves as a legitimate form of punishment for the offender's crimes. Some might also tacitly approve of the procedure's intrusive character because it serves to remind the offender of the state's power and signals to him the government's ability to put even the most private aspects of his mental and physical existence under surveillance. But to the extent that such unspoken considerations play a role in policies requiring sex offenders to undergo PPG tests, they ought to be stated openly and their merits debated freely, rather than attempting to cloak the procedure in the mantle of science. And when all of the relevant considerations are taken into account, the procedure's use cannot stand. Whether or not PPG must be discontinued because of the indignity it visits on sex offenders, the procedure should be rejected because of the manner in which it debases the state. Particularly when viewed alongside the many other ways in which the government actively fuels pedophilic desire in the name of preventing the sexual abuse of children, PPG tests indicate that, like the offenders it seeks to treat, the state may at times have its own morbid preoccupation with deviant sexuality. Requiring sex offenders to undergo penile plethysmography casts the government in the role of child pornographer, provocateur, and voyeur. These roles are morally wrong when assumed by ordinary citizens; they do not cease to be so simply because they are assumed by the government and its agents.