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The Abel Assessment for Sexual Interest is an assessment technique that measures sexual interest to various subjects. The assessment was created by Dr. Gene Abel in 1995, and has been used as evidence in Northern America when prosecuting sex offenders. It was later considered unreliable by independent studies[1] and inadmissible in court in various jurisdictions.

The assessment is highly controversial, as the results are often subjective, but not always presented in that manner. There are also experts in the field that question the assessment and its methodology.[2][3]

History

The Abel Assessment dates back to the early 1990s when Dr. Gene Abel began researching sexual interest.[4] It was reported that he previously used the penile plethysmograph before developing the Abel Assessment.[5]

It was stated that after the initial findings it passed Daubert hearings for admissibility in Federal and State Courts. It was later proven that this was untrue.[6]

In 2002, the Assessment was found to be inadmissible in court cases in the State of Massachusetts, a ruling that was upheld by the Massachusetts Court of Appeals in 2005.[7]

In early 2006 it was reported that the test was under investigation following the court ruling in 2005.[7]

Initial findings

Abel believed 15% of all men and boys were sexual predators, which would mean over 35 million males in the United States.[8]

Abel has been critisied for his scientific findings on which the majority of his assessment process is based. Abel is said to have exaggerated various statistics in order to prove his point. In the early 90’s, he announced that he had figures suggesting sex offenders commonly have multiple paraphilia’s. However, Marshall and Eccles found in 1991 that he had not mentioned that he had concentrated on any offender reporting multiple deviant acts as more than one person. This greatly increased his findings.[9]

Abel made this assertion from the results of the report "The Abel and Harlow Child Molestation Prevention Study." The report was never subject to peer review or published in any professional journal. There is also no in-depth detail about his methodology available. The Abel Assessment is said to be based on these findings.[10]

Assessment

Mental health professionals have used the AASI to civilly commit sex offenders, even though the Assessment is not admissible in many courts in the United States. In a court decision on the admissibility of the test, it was referred to as "magic of young Harry Potter's mixing potions at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry."

Abel states in his book that a therapist can use the Assessment as a tool to determine if a child is attracted to other children. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals also ruled in 2004 that the Assessment is a tool that is used only as treatment, and that it cannot detect whether a person has sexually abused children. Independent studies of the Assessment have concluded it to be unreliable in adults and that there is not yet enough information to support its use with adolescents.

The Diana Screen has also been a source of controversy for Abel due to it being a pass/fail assessment. The assessment is said to be able to determine if someone has molested a child. It was also reported that Abel has pushed the use of the Diana Screen as a business opportunity for individuals and agencies.

Reaction time

With the Abel Assessment, the person will be shown a series of slides in two separate processes. The first time is said to measure how long each slide is viewed. Abel’s assessment then has a mean reaction time, that it is said the person should view the image. If the reaction time is slower than that said time, it is said that the person has a sexual interest in the image shown. For example if you look at children in bathing suits for longer, the Abel Assessment will judge you have an interest in children, according to reports.

Should the person make a mistake, or have slow reaction times then they can obviously be perceived as something they are not, with some in the media calling this a massive flaw and problem for those with slow reaction times.

Sliding scale

The second process of watching the slides, the individual must rate the images from 1-7, 1 being revolting and 7 as sexually exciting. The flaw in this system is that a sane human cannot measure some images correctly using the scale. A mother for example, wouldn’t find a child in a bathing suit either a 1 or a 7. But her indication of a 3 or a 4 could be interpreted completely differently as there is no room for explanation with the 1-7 scale.

African-American differences

It was also documented that people from different racial backgrounds were given longer on certain images than others. It was then suggested by some this may have been for racial discrimination as there was no other reason for extending the time for differing ethnic backgrounds. It is effectively a handicap, and has been documented as one.[6][11]

Criticism

The assessment has been criticized in the media, online and also by the US justice system. It is said that the Abel Assessment can be countered by simply putting 6 down for all the images of adult women, 4 for teenage girls and 1 for all other images and then viewing them for the same ratio.

The system has been referred to by some as a rip off of previous theories, including that from a failed sexual conversion theory that was supposed to turn gay men and women straight.[8]

Dr. Abel has also been criticized for his lack of knowledge regarding the subject. It was reported that he claimed any young boy with dirty thoughts at a certain age should be treated as sex offenders.[8]

One of the largest criticism’s regarding the assessment is what it is able to prove. It is supposed to be able to objectively measure the likelihood of past child sexual abuse in men and women who deny it. The assessment simply measures reaction time to indecent and sexual images. It is said there is no underlying proof that it can prove a person was mistreated.[6]

Websites have emerged, which are said to outline the majority of the criticism.[12][13]

References

  1. Statistical adequacy of the Abel Assessment for In... [Sex Abuse. 1999] - PubMed - NCBI. Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov (2014-01-24). Retrieved on 2014-02-17.
  2. United States of America v. Guy Randy White Horse (U.S. District Court, South Dakota Western Division 2001)
  3. Smith, Gillan MacLean (1998). "Testing the Reliability and Validity of the Abel Assessment". Department of Counseling and Special Education (Brigham Young University).
  4. The Leader in Science-based Tests for Sex Specific Evaluation & Treatment. Drgeneabel.com. Retrieved on 2014-02-17.
  5. The Penile Plethysmograph in Sexual Assault Cases | Stuckle and Associates, PLLC. Paulstuckle.com. Retrieved on 2014-02-17.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Dr. Gene Abel is a Fraud - The Abel Assessment's False Claims. Drgeneabel.com. Retrieved on 2014-02-17.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Judicial Notebook-Testing tool in question. Apa.org (January 2006). Retrieved on 2014-02-17.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Dr. Gene Abel Complaint Review Atlanta, Georgia: 1103077. Ripoff Report. Retrieved on 2014-02-17.
  9. The Abel and Harlow Child Molestation Prevention Study. Childmolestationprevention.org. Retrieved on 2014-02-17.
  10. Frances, Allen (2009-06-26). A Warning Sign on the Road to DSM-V: Beware of Its Unintended Consequences. Psychiatric Times. Retrieved on 2014-02-17.
  11. [1][dead link]
  12. [2][dead link]
  13. [3][dead link]
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