Program Director, Sexual Offender Rehabilitative Treatment Program
One of the initial barriers to effective assessment, treatment and community management of sexual offenders is that of overcoming denial. Recent publications and professional presentations have come under fire for supporting the idea that offenders who are "in denial" should be treated or understood from a reframed paradigm (Northey, 1999; Steen, 1999). Community based programs need to have established protocols of criteria for accepting clients into their programs, with admission of offenses typically seen as a primary criteria. Regardless of how the treatment programs define admission, some level of ownership of the sexually offensive behavior is assumed to be a necessary component of effective treatment (ATSA, 1997).
It may be inevitable that some deniers will be ordered into community based treatment. Frequently, these individuals are persons released from prison, or who are involved in child protective services cases where there is insufficient case information to generate a criminal charge. In such community based settings, overcoming denial is relevant from the initial assessment, throughout treatment and continuing during supervision (ATSA, 1997). This raises the question of how can clinicians break through denial in these clients, so as to enable moving on with the formalized sexual offender specific treatment.
Psychological testing has had limited success in defining specific categories of sexually deviant interests ( Marshall & Hall, 1995; Schlank, 1995). Clearly the penile plethysmograph has been the most useful in assessing the sexual arousal patterns of offenders, although not without its challenges ( Maletzky, 1995). Polygraphy has also been promoted as another tool for use in the process of assessing and treating sexual offenders (Blasingame, 1998). The Abel Assessment for Sexual Interest has been promoted as an alternative to the penile plethysmograph (Blasingame, 1996). In recent years, the number of clinicians using the Abel Assessment for Sexual Interest has grown. Additionally, the Abel Assessment is beginning to develop a supportive research base regarding its reliability and validity (Johnson & Listiak, 1999; Letourneau, 1999).
The present author directed a pilot project involving paroled sexual offenders. All had been convicted of sexual abuse of at least one child, with criminal counts ranging from one to five. Within the first week of enrollment into the treatment program, each client was interviewed and completed the Abel Assessment for Sexual Interest, and was forewarned that he would be required to submit to a full history polygraph examination subsequent to completion of the assessment phase of the treatment program.
Two of the original twelve parolees were in complete denial when they presented for the intake interview, and two admitted only that they had been charged for molestation (but made no real admissions). After completion of their Abel Assessments, review of the victim information in their charges was found to be congruent with the sexual interest categories identified by the Abel Assessment. Three of the four admitted to their offenses when confronted with this information and the reminder that there would be a polygraph examination soon. The fourth client was returned to prison on a parole violation within two weeks, making him unavailable for follow-up. Polygraph examinations were subsequently administered, with two of the clients requiring two opportunities to polygraph, and the third client three opportunities to polygraph, before obtaining a truthful rating regarding the disclosures in their sexual histories. The three had been charged with a total of three victims, and while their original admissions after the intake was at one (1) victim/charge, their final admissions totaled nineteen (19) victims with approximately two-hundred and fifty (250) acts committed against those victims, all in the age and gender categories identified on the Abel Assessment for Sexual Interest.
While the Abel Assessment had accurately identified the age and gender of the offenders' offense categories, it was not considered as proof of victimizing, nor could it have determined how many victims each offender had, given their position of denial on self-report. However, the objective data obtained from the clients' viewing of the slide stimuli was able to be used in challenging the offenders' position of denial. This, in conjunction with the pressure of the polygraph examination, lead to subsequent admissions of numerous victims and deviant acts committed. These subsequent disclosures were reviewed at the point of the polygraph examinations, with the eventual outcome being verified by a truthful rating from the polygraph examiner.
The small number of subjects in the present data makes it unreasonable to generalize this information to all offenders in denial. However, the Abel Assessment for Sexual Interest was able to accurately identify the ages and genders of victim preferences of the offenders who were in denial. The clinical polygraph examinations verified the specific number of victims and offenses. This approach lends significant support to the combination of the Abel Assessment for Sexual Interest and clinical polygraph examination in the process of breaking through the denial of sexual offenders.
Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA;1997) The ATSA Practitioner's Handbook. ATSA, Beaverton, OR.
Blasingame, G. (Spring, 1996). Identifying the sexual interests of sexual offenders: A look at the Abel assessment. California Coalition on Sexual Offending Newsletter.
Blasingame, G. (January, 1998).Suggested guidelines for the clinical use of polygraphy in community-based sexual offender treatment. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, Plenum Press, New York, vol.10-1
Johnson, M., and Listiak, A., (1999). The measurement of sexual preference- A preliminary comparison of phallometry and the Abel assessment, in B. Schwartz, ed. (1999), The Sexual Offender: Theoretical Advances, Treating Special Populations and Legal Developments, Volume 3, ; Civic Research Institute; Kingston, NJ
Letourneau, E. (October, 1999). A Comparison of the Penile Plethysmograph and Abel Assessment for Sexual Interest on Incarcerated Military Sex Offenders. Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers annual conference, Orlando, FL.
Marshall, W. L., and Hall, G.C.N. (1995) The value of the MMPI in deciding forensic issues in accused sexual offenders. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, July, vol. 7-3.
Maletzky, B (1995) Stimulus materials and the protection of victims. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment , April, vol. 7-2.
Northey Jr., W. (July/August 1999). The politics of denial: A postmodern critique. Offender Programs Report , Civic Research Institute, Inc., Kingston NJ, vol. 3-2.
Schlank, A. (1995) The utility of the MMPI and the MSI for identifying a sexual offender typology. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, July, vol. 7-3.
Steen, C., (May, 1999). Treating Deniers Plenary address, California Coalition on Sexual Offending, second annual conference; Long Beach, CA.