The Second Circuit Court of Appeals attacked the procedure as “extraordinarily invasive” and unjustified, finding sex offender David McLaurin shouldn’t be forced to undergo it. Here is how the appeals court describes penile plethysmography, which sounds like something out of “A Clockwork Orange.”
This examination involves the use of a device known as a plethysmograph which is attached to a subject’s penis. In some cases, the subject apparently may be required, prior to the start of the test, to masturbate so that the machine can be “properly” calibrated. The subject is then required to view pornographic images or videos while the device measures blood flow to the penis and measures the extent of any erection that the subject has. The size of the erection is, we are told, of interest to government officials because it ostensibly correlates with the extent to which the subject continues to be aroused by the pornographic images.
The Second Circuit didn’t describe the nature of the porn that McLaurin would have been forced to watch, but presumably it was illegal. He was accused in 2001 of taking topless photos of his 13-year-old daughter in Alabama. When he moved to Vermont for work in 2011, he failed to register as a sex offender.
He got 15 months in prison and five years of supervised release for violating the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act. A judge ruled the plethysmograph “may” be part of that supervised release. The appeals court rejected the method, though, in part because “it inflicts the obviously substantial humiliation of having the size and rigidity of one’s penis measured and monitored by the government.”
While this procedure sounds unbelievably odd and barbaric, it has not just been used in Vermont. The Council on Sex Offender Treatment in Texas has defended the practice as a useful tool to determine who will reoffend.
“Sex offenders, especially highly compulsive offenders, have been found to ruminate over sexual fantasies involving the offence pattern,” the Council said in an informational document, “and phallometric assessments have been among the most successful at discriminating between groups of sex offenders and non-sex offenders.”
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