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‘What was your most unusual sex act?’ Cincy police, fire recruits asked about sex

reprinted: , Cincinnati Enquirer Published 12:01 p.m. ET Sept. 13, 2018 | Updated 3:53 p.m. ET Sept. 13, 2018

Cincinnati police and firefighter recruits are asked to describe their “most unusual sex act” in a questionnaire that can later become accessible to the public.

The questions are part of the Fire and Police departments’ pre-employment process. They raise concerns for some that new recruits are being asked to divulge private, probing details about their sexual history.

“This certainly raises eyebrows,” said Mary Turocy, director of public affairs for the Ohio Civil Rights Commission.

“Have you participated in a sexual act in a public place?” Cincinnati police and fire applicants are asked. “Location(s) and number of times. … Explain each circumstance.”

Another asks: “Not counting self-masturbation or legal sexual activity with a willing partner, what was your most unusual sex act?”

Cincinnati isn’t the only jurisdiction in the region asking such questions. West Chester, Delhi and Colerain townships all ask recruits about legal sexual acts or urges, including one about arousal by fire.

Staff at the Ohio Civil Rights Commission reviewed the questions obtained by The Enquirer via several records requests. Turocy said no discrimination lawsuits have been filed in the state pertaining to these types of questions.

Cincinnati police and firefighter recruits are asked to describe their “most unusual sex act” in a questionnaire that can later become accessible to the public.

“However, if someone made an allegation related to any question, especially a question that is somewhat unusual like those, we’d be looking at whether it is relevant to the duties of the job,” she said.

Sgt. Dan Hils, the Cincinnati police union president, said he supports the question about sex in a public place, as it is an “indication of law-breaking exposure.”

But the question about unusual sex, a version of which he recalled being asked as an applicant, could “possibly be out of bounds,” he said.

Questions about illegal sexual activity — sex with minors, sexual assault or possession of child pornography — appear in all of the pre-employment questionnaires obtained by The Enquirer.

“What we should be asking about are things that are criminal in nature,” Hils said. “…Stuff geared more to people’s private, behind-closed-doors lives, I do not see as having a bearing on the work we do.”

Lori Adelson, a Florida-based labor and employment attorney who represents employers, said that while she doesn’t specialize in Ohio law, she generally advises against posing questions that are “irrelevant to the functioning of the business and could possibly be deemed inappropriate.”

“If I was that employer’s attorney,” she said, “I would recommend they don’t have those questions in there.”

The city of Cincinnati said in a statement that “the specific questions mentioned are a small component of a comprehensive questionnaire used during a polygraph exam for prospective recruits. The polygraph is used to help gauge a respondent’s reactions and responses to difficult questions.”

Asking about sexual history is not uncommon for the region’s first responder recruits.

“Ever sexually aroused by fire?” West Chester police recruits are asked during a polygraph background test.

They’re also asked if they’ve ever been married to more than one person at the same time, if they’re experiencing “marital problems” and if they “ever (had) sexual relations/contact with a corpse (dead person or animal)?”

Barb Wilson, a West Chester spokeswoman, said the Police Department is looking to “determine the character, moral standards and ethical decision making” of its applicants.

“The questions asked as part of the polygraph examination should be considered as a collective of questions and not individually,” she wrote by email. “They are designed to gauge reactions and determine truthfulness in the broad range of topics covered.”

The city of Norwood asks police and fire applicants if they’ve ever watched others having sex.

Emma Schmidt, a Cincinnati sex therapist, said by email that “the way that the questions are asked could present the material in a way that suggests that the behavior would be deemed as a negative and thus stigmatize the behavior.”

The Colerain Township Department of Fire and EMS asks applicants about infidelity.

“Have you ever had sex, or a sexual relationship with a married co-worker?” says a pre-employment questionnaire.

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Colerain Police Chief Mark Denney said such questions aren’t lewd but can be revealing.

“The questions we ask that deal with sexual activity are generally limited to illegal activities. We do, however, ask more pointed questions that tend to reveal poor-decision making and lack of character in an applicant,” he said. “Our responsibility to the community is to learn everything about someone before handing them our badge and asking the community to trust them.”

Delhi Township police recruits are asked if they’ve “ever posted or transmitted naked/sexual images of yourself over the internet or cell phone app.”

Jack Cameron, the township administrator of Delhi, said it’s become increasingly difficult to find a recruit among the younger generation who hasn’t shared a picture of a “body part” with a partner, invoking changing values between generations.

He stressed the importance of sexual-based questions in screening applicants.

“Being in the business of public trust, I think this is the least we can do to vet prospective employees who will be afforded the public’s trust simply by being a Delhi representative,” he said, adding Delhi’s questions have been reviewed by the township’s employment attorney to ensure they don’t violate applicants’ rights.

In 2015, Gov. John Kasich signed a law barring public employers from including on job applications questions concerning an applicant’s criminal background.

The “ban the box” law, however, has provisions that allow a background check and consideration of prior convictions based on the nature of the job, according to the Ohio Department of Administrative Services.

Turocy, the Ohio Civil Rights Commission spokeswoman, said questions about sexual activity may be problematic in different contexts, but for employers, one factor is key: “Is it necessary for the employer to know that about the employee?”

The Enquirer’s Kevin Grasha contributed to this story.

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