Penile Plethysmography

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Christopher Biow

May 9, 1993, 3:46:24 PM5/9/93
We've seen a fair amount of pseudo-science, conspiracy-
theorizing, and just-plain-garbage coming out of the sex abuse
treatment crowd, but the following article describes something
that strains belief. I hope someone will defend this practice (if
only as devil's advocate), so that we can start a real thread and
get some respite from Waco crossposts, MacElwrae WARNINGS, Riley-
bashing, and re-definitions of science.

Quoted from _The_Wall_Street_Journal_, Eastern Edition, Feb. 3,
1993, front page:
-------------------------begin excerpt--------------------------
Privacy, Technology Collide in a Dispute Over an Intimate Test
A Lawsuit May Determine How Far Officials Can Go To Probe Sexual
A Cop's Struggle for His Job

By Stephen J. Adler, Staff Reporter for The Wall Street Journal.
OLD TOWN, Main--Proper citizens of this tidy community have
spent much of the past five years obsessed with a topic that many
are too embarrassed even to talk about.
At issue is whether it's fair for the city to require Police
Officer Norman Harrington to take a particularly intimate
physical test to determine whether he is sexually attracted to
In November 1988, after Mr. Harrington's name was raised in
a local sex-abuse case, city officials told him that he had to
submit to the penile plethysmograph, as the test is called, in
order to keep his job. Although there wasn't any credible
evidence against Mr. Harrington, the district attorney said he
wanted to be sure the officer didn't have deviant thoughts that
might lead to dangerous behavior.
But Mr. Harrington refused to cooperate after he learned
exactly what the test entailed, and he was fired. Since then, the
46-year-old career cop has driven a truck, fished the local
streams and entered psychotherapy [hair of the dog? CB] to combat
his mounting depression. He has also embarked on a grueling legal
battle to salvage his job and the remains of his reputation.

Fighting for a Job
"If I was just a garbage handler and they said I couldn't
have my job, I would fight for it," says Mr. Harrington, who for
now is back on the force under an arbitrator's ruling.
Mr. Harrington's civil-rights lawsuit against the city--
which has now been approved by a federal appeals court for trial-
-is about privacy and the limits of government power, and it
could help determine how far public officials can go in
investigating the intimate thoughts of citizens. It is also
likely to draw more attention to the penile plethysmograph, an
extraordinary device that has escaped scrutiny outside the
insular world of therapists who treat sex offenders.
The plethysmograph is a test that requires that a narrow
metal or rubber band be attached around the subject's penis. He
then views slides of naked adults and children. (Sometimes, audio
tapes or videotapes are used instead of the slides.) The band
stretches to reflect any change in the circumference of the
penis. Mercury in the band serves as a conductor that transmits
the results electrically to a video screen or automatic-pen
Computer software enables the tester to develop graphs that
show the degree of arousal to each stimulus and indicate whether
the subject is more aroused by males than females, by children
than by adults, by coerced than by consentual sex.

A Pattern of Behavior
Therapists say that the p-graph, as many call it, assists them in determining whether someone who has committed a sex crime
has a pattern of deviant sexual interests. This helps therapists
devise proper treatment programs and lets them measure their
progress--or lack therof--in reducing the individual's sexual
attraction to children or to violent situations.
The p-graph was developed in the mid 1960s in Czechoslovakia
to thwart draft resisters who claimed they were gay, and gained
popularity among US and Canadian sex therapists in the 1970s and
1980s. As demand increased, Farrall Instruments Inc., Grand
Island, Neb., began manufacturing the device commercially and has
supplied most of the 400 units now in use in sex-offender
treatment centers in some 40 states. Farrall has also exported
the p-graph to China, Hong Kong, Norway, Britain, Brazil, and
--------------paraphrase of rest of article begins---------------
Manufacturer is troubled by possible misuse. [possible?!?
CB] Child custody disputes have fathers being hooked up to it to
confirm/deny abuse accusations. Has been used on 10 year-old in
Phoenix hospital. Mr. Harrington suspended after accusation by 2
teenagers of driving up to their house with his wife/kids and
starting orgy with all concerned. 170 other people accused by
same teenagers, including US senator. Nine individuals close to
kids convicted. No support for allegations against Harrington. DA
still concerned, wants to test Harrington before rejoining
police. University of Maine psychologist William O'Donohue put in
charge of test. Harrington balked at p-graph test. Dr. O'Donohue,
now at Northern Illinois U. in DeKalb, won't comment. Harrington
fired, appeals through arbitration, public hearings, state &
federal court.
------------------end of paraphrase, beginning of comments------
The civil liberty aspect of this is, of course, outrageous.
It's thought-crime, pure and simple. But what stuns me is that a
group of university-level therapists and law-enforcement types
seem to be out there taking the p-graph seriously. They're going
to _help_ sex offenders with this sort of pseudo-science?
I'd love to propose participating in a blind test of the
system. Bet I could damp my responses almost at will by thinking
of Eleanor Roosevelt nude. And the reverse technique could
probably generate peak responses to pictures of whatever I chose.
That the ticket--I'd demonstrate sexual responses to
pictures of bacteria. Then they'd have to name a new sexual
perversion after me. What a way to become famous!

Christopher Biow

May 13, 1993, 10:25:08 AM5/13/93
In article <> (BOUCHER DAVID ) writes:

>In article <> (Gene W. Smith) writes:

>#In article <> (Christopher Biow)

>#>But what stuns me is that a group of university-level therapists and
>#>law-enforcement types seem to be out there taking the p-graph
>#>seriously. They're going to _help_ sex offenders with this sort of

>#On what basis to you call the p-graph pseudoscience? I have heard
>#that it is far more reliable than the lie detector, for instance.

[talk about damning with faint praise!]

>Is there any evidence that the thing actually works? Has it ever been
>subjected to double-blind testing?....

>#In any case, MDSOs, who have a strong incentive to beat the p-graph,
>#seem to have trouble doing so. You have any reason to think you could
>#do better?

I've asked by e-mail that you post the evidence for this claim.
Do you know of any, or of anybody who could defend such a claim?

>But does it distinguish them from innocent people? It is quite possible
>that almost anyone might have some kind of involuntary physical reaction
>when a rubber cuff is placed around their penis.

Since we've had no-one familiar with the literature make a post (or e-mail),
this discussion may not go far. But let me speculate on how it may have
been validated. Prof. Schmuckatelli bought one from the Czechs and
tested it on undergrads. He had the undergrads fill out survey forms
on their sexual preferences, and then found a positive correlation
between the surveys and the test results.

If this is all that was done, it would imply little or nothing about
how successful the system would be with non-adolescents, or with those
intentionally trying to deceive the system.

If no defender of the system appears, I'll try to find the time
to do my own research on its validation in the literature.

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