Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Czech response to criticism of bizarre test of gay asylum seekers "not good enough"

By Paul Canning

The Czech Republic has been criticised over their response to international outrage at their use of a so-called 'gay test' on gay asylum seekers. Called 'phallometric testing', gay men - and according to De Spiegel at least one lesbian - are shown pornography and a machine is used to supposedly 'prove' whether of not they are gay.

Updated to add: Prague Post quotes Vladimír Řepka, spokesman for the Interior Ministry, saying that tests were only applied to applicants who had "weak to zero credibility of testimony" and who were from countries that "severely punished" homosexuality up to and including the death penalty, citing Iran, Syria, Egypt, Azerbaijan, Cameroon and Nigeria, among others.

This website first broke the news about the test six days ago after it was cited in a report by a European Union human rights agency. Since then the story has gone 'viral' and been featured by media around the world.

The Czechs have said they will continue making the procedure available to those who request it. The LGBTI refugee agency ORAM (Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration) says that, in fact, those who decline to request the test will continue to be denied refugee protection, and that desperate asylum seekers will “opt” for the bizarre and scientifically invalid procedure in an attempt to avoid being removed to countries where they face persecution - countries such as Iran from where the asylum seeker fled whose subsequent deportation hearing in Germany resulted in the test becoming public knowledge.

Oram says that the practice is reported to have also been used in Slovakia.Coverage of the test's history has shown its source was the former Czechoslovakia in the 1950s, where it was used to 'cure' gay men.

ORAM has published today a groundbreaking report that demolishes claims that  plethysmography aka phallometry is reliable in any situation.

As we reported earlier it is used in Canada and the United States on paedophiles and other sex offenders. The report examines legal, psychiatric, and medical studies which show that it has inconsistent results that arise from uncontrolled variables in the application of the method. These uncontrolled variables include:

  • the ability of subjects to willfully generate physical responses to the visual stimuli presented in testing and
  • the lack of standardization for images used as visual stimuli that fail to account for cultural differences among testing subjects.

Oram says that any refugee claims that were denied because of either the results of plethysmographic testing or the refusal by applicants to submit to the testing must immediately be re-opened and re-examined.

They say that there is an urgent needed for "sophisticated procedures and guidelines" to help asylum decision-makers accurately evaluate the credibility of individuals claiming to be gay, lesbian or bisexual. "Resources must be allocated to the development and application of humane and reliable questioning and interviewing techniques, and to the thorough training of adjudicators in these techniques," they say.

Neil Grungras, Executive Director of ORAM said:
Phallometry is an outdated practice based on deeply prejudicial and simplistic beliefs.  In addition to being unreliable, the test is invasive and humiliating.  There is incontrovertible scientific evidence that people do not respond uniformly to the kinds of stimulation provided in phallometry.  And from our work with our clients, we know that refugees are often so traumatized from the experiences that caused them to flee and seek asylum in the first place that they are unlikely to react in a ‘predictable’ way to any kind of testing.  This is all the more so because so many gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex refugees have been sexually abused throughout their lives.

“The practice of phallometry must stop immediately.  It is not good enough for Czech government to simply say it will end its compulsory use but will let it remain available.  Asylum seekers are extremely vulnerable and desperate, and may feel obliged to request this degrading exam it in order to prove their claim. Only applicants who claim to be gay are targeted for this physically invasive examination.  Other asylum applicants in the Czech Republic are simply interviewed to ascertain the veracity of their claims.  Our report has demonstrated that phallometry is completely unreliable.   There is no point in having it available at all.
“Sophisticated procedures, including sensitive interviewing techniques and training for interviewers, need to be developed and implemented as soon as possible to ensure that those who need protection from persecution based on their sexual orientation are able to access safety without fear of abuse and humiliation by those charged with protecting them.”

Testing Sexual Orientation: A Scientific and Legal Analysis of Plethysmography in Asylum and Refugee Status...

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