Sex Offenders As Young As 13 Were Hooked Up To Controversial "Peter-Meter"

August 8, 2010

[British Columbia, Canada]  Young B.C. sex offenders were subjected to controversial testing with a genital measuring device for more than two decades, despite regular concerns from within government. Government officials, clinicians and researchers within the B.C. Children and Family Development Ministry were often at odds over the continued testing with a genital sensor device designed to measure arousal rates. Children's Minister Mary Polak pulled the plug on the penile plethysmograph last month. She acted not because of objections to the program but because one of the medical technicians administering the tests on young offenders had been charged with an unrelated sexual assault. Alan Markwart, director of youth forensic psychiatric services, said in an interview that some government officials considered the use of the penile plethysmograph on young sex offenders invasive. Others argued its use could prevent future sex crimes as well as provide a measure of what turns on young sex criminals. Under the program, sex offenders as young as 13 were required to look at images of nude and semi-nude children and listen to audio descriptions of forced sex while their physical responses were measured. The penile plethysmograph is used in prisons in Canada and the United States to monitor adult sex offenders, but its use on young people is not widely known. The penile plethysmograph was developed in the 1950s by East Bloc Cold War scientists to determine whether officers refusing military service on claims they were homosexual were telling the truth. The penile plethysmograph is a mercury-in-rubber strain gauge that is placed around the base of the penis and measures minute changes in penis circumference. Adult prisoners have referred to it as a "peter-meter." Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, B.C.'s representative for children and youth, has launched a full-scale investigation into the program. The B.C. Civil Liberties Association and Vancouver-based youth advocacy group, Justice For Girls, called the testing primitive and abusive towards young people. When the ministry announced the program would be dropped, it also said the data that had been collected would not be used. Asia Czapska, a spokeswoman for Justice for Girls, an organization that lobbies primarily for the rights of young women, called the testing a human rights abuse. "This was just egregious," she said. "It's shocking." Czapska said the presence of the sex testing in B.C. youth custody facilities shows a need for more independent oversight of youth jails.

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