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False pretenses of unethical social research

In 1970, Laud Humphreys published the groundbreaking dissertation
he wrote as a doctoral candidate at Washington University called
“Tearoom Trade: Impersonal Sex in Public Places.” Because of his
unorthodox methods — he did not get his subjects’ consent, he
tracked down names and addresses through license plate numbers,
he interviewed the men in their homes in disguise and under false
pretenses — “Tearoom Trade” is now taught as a primary example
of unethical social research.

Op-Ed Contributor

America’s Toe-Tapping Menace

Published: September 2, 2007
For almost 40 years most police departments have been aware of
something that still escapes the general public: men who troll for
sex in public places.

That said, what results! In minute, choreographic detail, Mr. Humphreys
(who died in 1988) illustrated that various signals — the foot tapping,
the hand waving and the body positioning — are all parts of a delicate
ritual of call and answer, an elaborate series of codes that require the
proper response for the initiator to continue. Put simply, a straight
man would be left alone after that first tap or cough or look went

Why? The initiator does not want to be beaten up or arrested or
chased by teenagers, so he engages in safeguards to ensure that
any physical advance will be reciprocated. As Mr. Humphreys put
it, “because of cautions built into the strategies of these encounters,
no man need fear being molested in such facilities.”


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