IPT Book Reviews


Assessment of Sexual Offenders Against Children: The APSAC Study Guides 1 


Vernon L. Quinsey and Martin L. Lalummiėre

Publisher: Sage Publications, Inc., ©1996

Sage Publications, Inc.
2455 Teller Rd.
Thousand Oaks, CA 91320
(805) 499-0721
$95.00 (p) (includes testing for six continuing education credits)

The study guide and the accompanying knowledge tests in this short book (98-pages including notes, bibliography, and tests) are intended to advance the knowledge of professionals and fulfill legal requirements for continuing education.  These guides are produced by the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children (APSAC).  This first guide is likely to be quite influential and to have significant impact on the practice of assessing sexual offenders against children.  It is a worthy goal and certainly is an attempt to meet a serious and compelling need — the improvement of assessment procedures and changing the unsupported mythologies that pervade the assessment of offenders.  Whether this short and limited guide can accomplish this remains to be seen.

There is no attempt to instruct the practitioner in the nature of science, the interaction of science and practice, and the necessity to have skill in distinguishing between claims where there is credible scientific support and those which are speculative and unsupported.  There are short sections purporting to be summaries of relevant research relating to adults who sexually offend against children.  The research cited is limited and sometimes appears to be an arbitrary selection rather than an effort to select the most relevant material.

Although the book's brief summary of applicable research notes that the research evidence is weak, controversial, limited in generalizability, and without much practical applicability, the readers for whom the book is intended are not likely to be sophisticated enough to appreciate these caveats.  It is more likely that the cautions will be ignored and the statements about research findings treated as if they were strongly supported and scientific fact.  If this is the effect, it is not likely to improve practice very much.

In point of fact, the research summarized does not provide strong support for any particular practical step.  It appears there is little evidence to undergird the assessment of sexual offenders.  Clinicians, of course, must respond and cannot wait for the research to be done.  However, one thing that can be done is to show where there is negative evidence that falsifies some claims and procedures.  Instruction can be given as to what ought not be done.

The single largest part of the book is devoted to the highly recommended use of the penile plethysmograph.  Unfortunately, the research that calls into question the use of the plethysmograph as an assessment technique is ignored.  The practitioner who follows the advice given may see the plethysmograph as the silver bullet that magically solves assessment questions.  This would be unfortunate in view of the many serious problems there are in using the device as a diagnostic test.

If the limited goal is to advance the practice of assessing offenders, this study guide may be of limited utility and effectiveness.  If the goal is to amass the 6 continuing education credits this program offers, that can be reached quite readily.

Reviewed by Ralph Underwager, Institute for Psychological Therapies, Northfield, Minnesota 55057.

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