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Can a Computerized Test Pinpoint Potential Sex Offenders?


Dr. Gene G. Abel claims he has found a way to identify people who are likely to commit sex offenses against children. Using criteria such as “visual reaction time,” the test asserts that it can pinpoint individuals who have a sexual interest in children. Those who have a sexual interest in children are considered most likely to commit a sexual offense in the future.

Abel’s test is a for-profit business model, often used by courts to make decisions on everything from parole to child custody. For example, a person charged with a crime who scores well on the Abel Assessment may be able to opt for therapy in lieu of a prison sentence. A person in the midst of a messy divorce who scores poorly on the Abel Assessment may lose custody of his/her children.

Many are skeptical of the test’s accuracy – how can a computer-generated test really determine a person’s likelihood of committing a sex offense? So far, there is little research to confirm or deny how well the test actually works. Arizona’s Department of Juvenile Corrections uses Abel’s test to evaluate and treat juvenile offenders who display behavioral problems that are sexual in nature.

Critics of the sex offender test have two major concerns: the test could wrongfully label people pedophiles, and the test could be manipulated and “beaten” by actual pedophiles, placing children at risk.

The test equates “extended lingering” on images depicting children with an increased likelihood of committing a future sex offense against a child. The problem with making this comparison is that it is not necessarily causal – even a sexual interest in children does not necessitate acting on that desire.

The Marshall Project did an extensive feature on the Abel Assessment. For more information on the myriad of issues surrounding this controversial test, give it a read. If you or someone you love has been charged with a sex offense, we invite you to contact a Phoenix criminal defense attorney at MayesTelles PLLC for a free case review. Let us explain your legal rights and options.

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