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Both of those tests are invasive and hard to administer; taking the Abel Assessment simply involves answering a questionnaire and viewing a series of pictures on a computer screen.

With the information it provides in the form of percentages and graphs, clinicians can make more informed decisions about the best course of treatment.

The test, Abel has written, “assumes that the longer a subject focuses on a slide…the greater the sexual interest in the slide's content.” The implication is that if you linger on images of children, you are more likely to register as having a “sexual interest” in them.

Along with disgruntled fathers like Rich, a handful of professors and practicing psychologists have been grumbling privately and publicly for years about the Abel Assessment.

His hair, a tangle of white curls, forks into ample sideburns.

Abel, one of America’s foremost researchers on child molestation, has cultivated an aura of eccentric brilliance.

He found the prospect of having a decision made about him based not on his actions but on his thoughts to be eerie.


Abel’s company said Rich’s description was partially incorrect but that they could not give me any specifics about the test-taking instructions because it might compromise “the integrity of the assessment protocol.” Rich said he looked at a series of slides depicting men, women, boys, and girls of different ethnicities and ages, all in various situations and states of undress (though never nude).

(The two men in this story who were ordered by courts to take the Abel Assessment asked that I withhold their last names to preserve their privacy.) In the midst of a messy divorce, Rich’s daughter told a counselor that Rich had “felt under her shorts.” Such accusations are not uncommon in custody battles, and psychiatrists tend to be cautious about them since children can be swayed to make such accusations by a parent desperate to win full custody.


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