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Thursday, 9 December 2010

Czechs respond to criticism of 'phallometric testing' of gay asylum seekers

By Paul Canning

The story we broke on Sunday of the Czech Republic using 'phallometric testing' on gay asylum seekers has now drawn a response from Czech authorities. This practice tests the physical reaction to heterosexual pornographic material of those who file a claim for asylum on the basis of their homosexual orientation.

Following inquiries by the Associated Press the Czech Interior Ministry said in a statement that the testing is conducted only after written consent had been obtained, and when it was not possible to use a different method of verification.

Ministry spokesman Pavel Novak said the testing has been carried out in fewer than 10 cases, always by a medical specialist, and was used on unreliable applicants from countries such as Iran, where homosexuality is grounds for harsh punishment.

Novak said all those who have passed the test have been granted asylum. He gave no further details.

Martin Rozumek, the director of Czech NGO Organization for Aid to Refugees, told GlobalPost in the last two years his organization has acted as a legal representative to three people — two men and a woman — in their bid to avoid the phallometric testing. All three underwent the testing in the end, and were granted asylum. He said that they all refused to take legal action against the authorities for fear that they would be denied asylum.

"The two men, yes, they felt ashamed. They felt ashamed. It goes too much into their privacy, and, in addition, both of them were Muslim. Both were from Iran," he said.

He added that both had been convicted of "perverse activity" in Iran — a country whose president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has claimed does not have any homosexuals at all — and had police reports from the convictions to show to authorities as proof of their homosexuality. They were still, however, asked to undergo the test.

"Where the claim to asylum or to subsidiary protection will be rejected unless some consent is given, the notion of free consent becomes meaningless," Matteo Bonini-Baraldi, the author of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights report which broke the news wrote.

Ivo Prochazka, a sexologist at the Institute of Sexology in Prague, told GlobalPost that the Czech authorities' use of the test was "irrational."

"Sometimes it can be reliable but sometimes not," he said. "Each result can be very different and it must be compared with a sexual examination. It cannot be done independently."

He said that people generally have some sexual arousal to any nude image, regardless of whether they are actually sexually attracted to the person in the image. He said the key to accurate testing is comparing the amount a person is aroused to their own gender as compared to the opposite sex. The phallometric testing machine, which is attached to a man's genitals, measures small erectile changes to determine the man's level of sexual arousal.

He added that if a person is under psychological pressure or stress the test is only about 40 percent accurate. Even if it is performed in a comfortable environment it is only about 70 percent accurate, he said, which is why it can't be considered a conclusive method of determining sexual orientation.

He said that in his practice he occasionally uses phallometric testing to aid sexually-confused individuals in understanding their gender preference, and the test is also occasionally used in court cases to determine pedophilia or sexual aggression.

He added that in his practice he primarily uses visual stimuli of naked men or women, and would only progress to images of people having sexual intercourse if the initial images were not producing results. "Nothing erotic," he said.

Boing Boing reports that the device was developed in what's now the Czech Republic by psychologist Kurt Freund, who then moved to what's now called the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto, Canada. Freund's CAMH protégés are still the most vocal proponents of the device, and this peter meter has been used on children as young as 13 in Canada. Earlier this year, a Canadian tester was charged with sexual assault

The story has now been covered by the BBC and, following the AP report, a number of other mainstream media outlets including the Daily Mail who managed to turn it into an anti-EU story.

A petition has been started.

ORAM - Organization for Refuge, Asylum & Migration - has announced that it will be releasing a report which it has compiled on phallometric testing next week. Neil Grungras, Executive Director of ORAM said:
“The practice of phallometry must stop immediately.  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.”
We understand from refugee experts monitoring the situation that in practice 'phallometric testing' may have been stopped in the Czech Republic.

Update, 10 December: Vladimir Repka, a Czech Interior Ministry official, confirmed today that they  stopped the compulsory use of the test earlier this year after an Iranian refugee complained about it to a German court. However he told the German Press Agency dpa that the asylum applicants could ask to be given the test "in order to improve their chances for asylum".

'We understand that it could be degrading, and that is why we no longer use it and are not likely to use it in the future,' Repka said.

The ministry, however, defended the practice, saying that it had been used in nine cases in recent years after a Czech court suspected that an asylum seeker who had claimed persecution on grounds of sexual orientation was pretending to be homosexual.

The court at that time accepted the test as evidence and the applicant was granted asylum. Eight others who later underwent the test were also granted asylum.

'It can be unpleasant but we had no other way to prove it. The court would have sent him home, where he would be threatened with death,' Repka said.

Magda Faltova, who heads the Prague-based Association for Integration and Migration, said that her group's clients signed the paperwork without understanding what they were in for.

She also said that the gay applicants were under pressure to undergo the procedure.

'In no way was their consent informed. We had to explain it to them,' she told dpa. 'And the question is what would have happened if they had not agreed.'

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