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False Allegations and Phallometry 

[Page 115]

There is good reason to suspect that some allegations of sexual abuse may serve purposes other than the interests of justice and child protection. In recent years there have been well-publicized cases of public figures denying accusations of sexual impropriety with children by impugning the motives of their accusers. 

Allegations of sexual abuse may be made, for example, during divorce proceedings where the custody of the children is in dispute. One does not have to assume that malice or manipulation motivates these allegations; an ex-spouse may well feel genuine but misplaced concern. It would be of importance if phallometry could differentiate between false and true accusations.

Are characteristic patterns to be found in men who are accused of abuse during child custody disputes? 

The clinical records of men who had been referred for phallometric sexual arousal assessment either by their lawyers or by child care workers were examined in one study (McAnulty and Adams, 1990). Some were in child custody disputes, others were not. Over 70% had been formally charged with child molestation and the remainder were awaiting the results of investigations. As many as a quarter of the cases were rejected for further analysis because they showed little or

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no erection to any of the sexual stimuli. The circumferences of their erections were measured (Marshall, Barbaree and Christophe, 1986 Quinsey, Chaplin and Varney, 1981) as they listened to audio-taped descriptions of explicit sexual activity. These were narrated in the second person by a man while an appropriate colour slide of a nude person was shown at the same time. The female child stimuli included fellatio, intercourse and genital fondling; the male child stimuli described partner-initiated fellatio and the child as receptive partner during anal intercourse. These clearly showed prepubescent children. Other slides depicted women. 

A statistical analysis (discriminant function) suggested that sexual arousal to the male stimuli was largely responsible for distinguishing the custody dispute cases from the rest. Eighty per cent of dispute cases could be correctly identified from this variable alone and 56% of the non-custody dispute cases. Dividing the maximum response to child stimuli by the maximum response to an adult (i.e. Abel's paedophilia index) and using a ratio of 0.6 between the two as the cut-off point resulted in nearly half of the custody dispute and two-thirds of the non-custody dispute men being classified as deviant. 

It should be noted that although response to male children was the best predictor, the majority of the offences were against female children. There was no difference between the two groups in terms of their response to adult females. Half of the non-custody cases responded to male children: 

"As a final caution, the results of this study are not to be misinterpreted as criteria of 'innocence' or 'guilt' which are legal decisions. The findings do show that involvement in a custody dispute is not sufficient as a sole criterion for determining the presence or absence of pedophilic arousal in accused sex offenders. Some individuals accused of child molestation in the context of custody disputes present deviant patterns of sexual arousal while others do not. Additional criteria are necessary for determining whether the accused offender is likely to have committed the alleged sexual offense." 
(McAnulty and Adams, 1990, p. 554)

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