New Test That Tells If Someone Is a Child Predator Won't Make Your Kids Any Safer

A friend of mine is recently divorced and going through the whole online dating experience. She shares stories of dating highlights and fails, with more in the latter category occurring, for sure. But just the other week, she encountered a nightmare situation that no parent wants to deal with. She found out that one of the men she had gone on a date with was a registered sex offender. She immediately dropped all contact with him, but my friend -- the mother of two young girls -- was completely freaked out.


And wouldn't the same be true for most of us? Protecting our children from sexual molestation is something most parents think -- and possibly worry -- about. What if there was a test to figure out if somebody was a true danger when it came to child sexual abuse? There actually very might just be one, but its accuracy and legitimacy is being scrutinized, and not everyone is excited about it.

For over 20 years, Dr. Gene G. Abel has been working on and refining the Abel Assessment for Sexual Interest, a computerized questionnaire that has been used in decisions about probation, parole, custody battles, and even in criminal trials all related to child sexual abuse and molestation. The test, which has been administered over 170,000 times and involves a series of questions and viewing of various pictures of people of all ages, relies on "visual reaction time" -- basically it records how much time a subject looks at each image. Most of the research done and studies written on this method have been by Dr. Abel or someone who has worked closely with him. For this and other reasons, some say that this test, and its results, shouldn't be weighed as heavily as they are.

In a piece at The Atlantic, Maurice Chammah looks into Abel and the validity of his test. The Abel Assessment has been used in many court decisions over the last 20 years from having scores dictate therapy instead of criminal convictions, results factoring in to how often convicted sex offenders need to check in with their parole officers, and helping in determining lengths of sentences.

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This should make me feel safe and secure as parents. There's a test out there that supposedly lets you know who is a sexual predator and to what degree. But the fact that it's so controversial makes any sense of safety or relief uncomfortable at best. Chammah shares the case of Rich B., who was court ordered to take the Abel Assessment after his 6-year-old daughter told a counselor that her father "felt under her shorts" during a particularly messy divorce. Despite Rich's adamant denial of any wrongdoing, he took the assessment, with the results coming back that he has a "slight sexual interest in children." The results ended up not coming into play in the court's decision, and Rich retained his supervised visits with his daughter.

In a perfect world, nobody would harm or violate anyone, and children in particular. I wouldn't have to think about my friend going on dates, only to find out that one is a convicted sexual abuser. I wouldn't have to worry about my child around new grown-ups at camp or after-school activities. But, that's not the world we live in. No, we live in a world where one in five girls and one in twenty boys is the victim of sexual assault. And so, wouldn't we want some sort of test that detects somebody's "sexual interest" toward children?

Except, the test is super controversial, and despite its being proliferate, hasn't been vetted or studied by others outside the creator's circle. And where do we draw the line between those who may show sexual interest in children versus those who actually act on said interest?

Research shows that most incidences of childhood sexual molestation happen with somebody the child already knows. Do you then give every single person who comes into contact with your child an Abel Assessment? And what happens when the results are not what you were expecting them to be?

While it would be wonderful to rely on an easy test to help us know who we need to protect our children from, life sadly doesn't work that way, especially when it comes to sexual abuse. So, instead, I will continue drilling the concept of consent into my child, not only so he respects others and their bodies, but also so he knows when someone is taking advantage of his own. 


Image via dragon_fang/shutterstock



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