By Shaun Gillham
SMEARED lipstick on a collar or the lingering hint of a strange aftershave is no longer enough proof of a salacious affair – an increasing number of suspicious Nelson Mandela Bay couples are turning to lie detector tests to catch their lovers out.
While still considered a somewhat controversial truth detection technique, polygraph testing is mostly used by large corporations, small business, some government departments and certain industries such as security companies.
Businesses which involve high-value materials, such as the precious metals used by Nelson Mandela Bay’s catalytic converter companies, are frequent users of polygraph services.
But Kobus van Heerden of Walmer-based Polygraph Truth Verification Service said his company had fielded a large number of requests to test partners in relationships, although he tried to avoid them as far as possible.
“These cases get very messy, very emotional and they are very unpleasant to be involved in. There are always repercussions and people get hurt. In fact, to put people off from conducting these tests, we nearly triple the price of the test so we can ensure they are really serious about doing them,” said Van Heerden.
A general lie detector test costs upwards of R700. However, a private test around relationship issues can cost about R2 000.
In one case, Van Heerden said, a Nelson Mandela Bay couple had both been tested for infidelity, and the tests had resulted in their separation.
“They later decided to reconcile and again came back for testing.”
“It is a very uncomfortable business. In one instance after a test, the woman who had demanded that her partner be tested, then kept calling back, questioning the results and not wanting to believe her partner had been unfaithful. You get drawn into people’s private and emotional lives and it is not pleasant.”
Van Heerden has conducted about 13 000 tests and his national company has been contracted in high-profile criminal investigations around the country, including former first lady Marike de Klerk’s murder case.
Another highly experienced Port Elizabeth polygraphist, Jaco Loots of Accurate Assignments, confirmed the trend of couple’s taking lie detector tests.
“We get about five or six requests per week from individuals who want a polygraph test around issues in their relationship. We really don’t want to do them because they usually have massive emotional repercussions.
“Look, if people have to go to the length of doing a test, there is already something serious wrong there, and I am not keen to get involved in that. What I then do in these situations is get a psychologist involved, or other specialists and I would even go to the lengths of having such a professional sit in on the test,” said Loots.
The polygraphist said when he started in the business about 15 years ago, the company would field about one or two test requests for relationship issues per month. “Now we get them almost every day,” he said.
“I must also point out that a portion of requests come from men who are controlling in nature or who are suspicious of their wives, due perhaps to their sense of self worth or paranoia.
“As an example, you will get a man who does not believe that his wife goes to book club every week and he becomes suspicious and ultimately tries to force her to take a test.”
Polygraph tests cannot be used to legally establish guilt, but are widely used as supporting evidence in a variety of investigations.
Van Heerden said the test was mostly used by companies in cases of theft or dishonesty, or as screening tests to establish the general integrity of an employee or potential employee.
Loots, who conducts about 1 000 tests per year, said the dramatic increase in the number of tests being conducted was an indication of the dramatic increase in workplace crime and dishonesty and crime levels in general – which he was able to note due to his company’s average 10% increase in annual turnover, which came despite harsh global and local economic conditions.
“In terms of police involvement, one must bear in mind that police investigators look for evidence which they must be able to take to court.
“In the work place there is another dynamic – labour law which is tricky to deal with. Employers are therefore forced to operate with private security entities, such as security companies, and tools such as cameras to stop or uncover inappropriate or illegal behaviour in the workplace.
“They then have to use devices such as polygraph testing to address specific problems which the police cannot or will not address,” he explained.
This is a shortened version of an article that appeared in the print edition of the Weekend Post on Saturday, October 20, 2012.