The Abel Assessment for Sexual Interest

Instructor: Karin Gonzalez

Karin has taught middle and high school Health and has a master's degree in social work.

In this lesson, you will learn what the Abel Assessment for Sexual Interest is and what it evaluates. In addition, you will learn the history and components of this assessment, as well as the controversy surrounding it. Following the lesson is a brief quiz to test your new knowledge.

What Is the Abel Assessment for Sexual Interest?

Jack is going through a difficult divorce with his wife, Jill. They are fighting for custody of their daughter, Jane. In one of the court hearings, Jane tells the judge that Jack touched her underneath her shorts on one occasion. Jack denies his daughter's allegation. The family court judge orders the forensic psychologist, Dr. Amy Williams, to run an evaluation on Jack to see if he has sexual interest in children.

Dr. Williams administers the Abel Assessment for Sexual Interest (AASI), a test that measures problematic, abusive, or atypical sexual interest in a subject. Jack's test reveals that he has a small sexual interest in children, and the judge orders supervised visits when Jack is with his daughter. The names in this story are fabricated, but a scenario of this type actually occurred, and the person tested created a website to warn other fathers of being wrongly accused or incriminated by the Abel Assessment.

The Abel Assessment was designed to predict whether or not someone is likely to be a sexual predator. The assessment results have been used many times in court as evidence for or against people accused of inappropriate sexual activity, interest, or crimes. On numerous occasions, the validity and accuracy of the test has been questioned. There have been cases of people who have been incarcerated or have had their parental rights taken away because of the results of this test.

History of the Abel Assessment

In 1995, the Abel Assessment was created by Dr. Gene G. Abel, an American psychiatrist and professor who spent years researching qualities of sexual predators and offenders. The assessment came at a time when sexual crimes were becoming more and more prevalent in the 1980s and 1990s.

Despite the increasing prevalence of rape in the 1980s and 1990s, sexual assault has been a problem for many centuries, as evident by this 16th-century painting.
Rape is a historical issue.

The need for proper assessment and treatment of individuals with criminal sexual interest was becoming very apparent to Dr. Abel. For example, in his 1994 survey of 453 pedophiles, he found that each pedophile had molested an average of 150 children (Abel's research was later claimed to been exaggerated by him to make his research seem more significant). In addition, the rate of recidivism (committing a similar crime again) for sexual crimes is 10 times higher than recidivism for other crimes.

Sexual predators, especially pedophiles, are a common concern for many parents.
Sexual predators are a common concern for many parents.

Before the Abel Assessment, clinical professionals strictly used the penile plethysmography to evaluate sexual interest. It involved using a cylinder placed on a man's penis to measure sexual excitement through erection when viewing pictures of an erotic nature. This assessment tool is still used today, as it is widely believed to be a more objective measurement tool of sexual interest.

Components of the Abel Assessment

The Abel Assessment is done on a laptop with Windows software. The first section of the Abel Assessment (the adult version is abbreviated as AASI-3) consists of a self-report questionnaire in which subjects must report their sexual preferences, ability to control sexual impulses, and history of their sexual behavior. This section also screens for particular qualities of the subject, and whether or not they fit the stereotypical profile of a sexual offender.

The second section shows subjects a total of 160 pictures, such as a child in a bathing suit or a man inappropriately touching a woman in public, and measures the amount of time that the subject views each slide. The subject does not know their viewing time is being measured. Longer viewing time would mean that the subject has a possible sexual interest in the person in the photo.

The AASI-3 measures sexual interest of individuals in many different areas of sexuality. These areas fall under the realm of problematic, inappropriate, or illegal sexual behaviors. The test looks for interest in pedophilia, sadism, public masturbation, rape, pornography, prostitution, sex with strangers, and so forth.

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