The sex-offender test

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). “One picture was a group of people in a crowd,” Rich told me, “and a man with his hand on a lady’s rear end. You know—it’s kind of crude.” In the New York Times Magazine story, Bergner described some of the photos in detail: “A blond woman in somewhat prim white lingerie; then a clean-cut man in a plaid shirt and khakis; then a boy, who looked to me around 12, straddling a bicycle with a book bag over his shoulder; then a girl around the same age wearing a straw hat and eating strawberries; then a pudgy little girl of maybe 4 in a blue one-piece swimsuit.”

Rich spent about two hours completing the test. The clinician sent his results to Abel’s company in Atlanta. Soon after, they faxed back his scores. Rich didn’t see the paper, but it displayed percentages and graphs the clinician had been trained to interpret. Rich was found to have a slight “sexual interest” in children. When the clinician testified to this in family court, Rich’s lawyer challenged whether the Abel Assessment was a credible way to determine the risk Rich posed to his own daughter.

In the end, Rich’s custody level did not change—he continued having supervised visits with his daughter—but he was suspicious of the test and worried that other divorced fathers might find their own claims to custody imperiled if they scored poorly. He found the prospect of having a decision made about him based not on his actions but on his thoughts to be eerie. He searched on Google for more information and published a page about the test on InnocentDads.org, a website he had created for men in his situation.