Saturday, October 5, 2013

arousal is not the crime

A filthy secret about child pornography cases: plethysmography. In this test, sensors are attached to a man's penis to detect arousal while he is shown child pornography images. Though the word is spelled with enough letters to make it sound all science-y, this is a barbaric practice similar to phrenology.

A person prosecuted for owning child porn images is shown child porn images by someone paid to maintain a collection of child porn images. That's twisted.

The good news is that not all jurisdictions use this test and now we have even more good news:
Yesterday, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, which oversees New York, Vermont, and Connecticut, determined that using an erection-measuring device as part of probation for one sex offender was an “extraordinarily invasive” and a violation of due process. ...
The Second Circuit Court of Appeals saw some problems with the claims of plethysmography's effectiveness. The judges wrote, “We find it odd that, to deter a person from committing sexual crimes, the Government would use a procedure designed to arouse and excite a person with depictions of sexual conduct closely related to the sexual crime of conviction.”
Commenter tarran at the Reason link sums it up well:
The idea was you show people stuff, and if they start to get hard, you know they really like it. 
So, if you show a guy a picture of an eight year old girl and the blood starts flowing to his nethers you know that eight year olds arouse him. 
It doesn't tell you how likely he is going to *act* on the arousal. But if he is aroused by eight year olds, then he is a devil incarnate and can be locked up safely forever. 
I work with some very pretty 25 year-old women... if you ran me through the machine while showing pictures of them cavorting in swimwear, you *would* get a response. Somehow I've managed to avoid raping any of them... as has every other male in my company. That tells you everything you need to know about the usefulness of the machine. 
This case is another tug in the effort to drag accepted thinking about sex crimes into the twenty-first century. Or the twentieth. 


LizaMoore said...

Sorry Marie, I really don't mean to be gross here but I can't figure out how to say this.

What if a man gets aroused no matter who or what is touching him? The probe that measures it could turn him on.

I don't know what the answers are in figuring out who is going to reoffend and who isn't. However, these ridiculous measures are not protecting anyone.

Ethan Edwards said...

This technique is actually a very important tool for the scientific study of sexual attraction, but it should only be used on men who are volunteers without any consequences for failure to participate -- or for results being of one kind or another.

In general, we don't mind the authorities having material that's illegal if there's a good reason for it. Most people would support the military having small quantities of chemical or biological weapons for the purpose of testing antidotes, for instance.

Marie, you know that we agree on the basic issues here. On civil liberties grounds, possession of CP should not be a crime, even if some of it is disgusting and immoral.

I've been wondering about other cases where subjects are distressed that pictures of them spread all over the internet. Here's one:

Admittedly she posted the picture herself, though not intending to make it public. But one thing she never dreamed of suggesting was that people who had downloaded a private copy should be locked up in prison for years.

Marie said...

Liza, I was going to say that "gross" is the only way to see this test and then Ethan came along to say there is a legitimate use for plethysmography. :-) Ethan, I did not know that, so thanks for that bit of information.

I loved your link to the Salon piece, Ethan. That young woman is one smart cookie. Tough, too. No wonder she dressed up as Lara Croft.

LizaMoore said...

After watching Masters of Sex on Showtime, I agree with Ethan that there is a legitimate use. However, I don't see how it could be a reliable tool with sex offenders and it seems unconstitutional to use it like that.

The Salon article is interesting and I showed it to my kids to reinforce not to put anything online that could be embarrassing. It is not the same as child porn pictures though. She was an adult.

Sophie piper said...

The Ministry of children and family development in British Columbia was using this device on teenagers in their care up until less than a year ago. Now that is disgusting