To minor attracted people, Gene Abel is mostly a name that is hated. In some academic circles, he is still regarded as a hero to modern-day child protection. Most people who are not familiar regard his facts at face value without digging into it. In this article, I want to explain to the average reader why Gene Abel is so problematic not only to minor attracted people, but to the prevention of child sexual abuse as a whole.

Why a poisonous mushroom? Because that is the effect his work has: It looks pretty and innocent enough, but in reality, it feeds on excrement and poisons those who eat it.

The Abel and Harlow Child Molestation Prevention Study

This study, which can be found here as an excerpt from The Stop Child Molestation Book, details a study which was not peer reviewed and was conducted by Gene Abel and his wife, Nora Harlow. Gene Abel is a medical doctor, not a research scientist or research psychologist.

Essentially, what this study did was surveyed 16,109 adults from age 18 to 95. The sample was not random, the survey questionnaire was one marketed to psychologists with proceeds from the purchase of this survey going to Gene Abel, which then funded this study. In other words, there is an inherent conflict of interest given how it was financed and who conducted it, and the fact that it was not peer-reviewed. However, the largest issue with this study is in its definition of pedophilia.

This criteria for “molesters with pedophilia” is deficient and confuses attraction with behavior.

To define pedophilia in this manner makes no sense. Child molestation and sexual attraction to children are clearly two separate things, yet this study conflates the two while ignoring non-offending people. They essentially define child molestation acts as enough to diagnose someone as a pedophile, when the reality is not that simple. We know there are people who have sexually abused children for years and have no attraction to them, experts from the FBI and National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (1992 paper) call them “situational offenders.” They were well known in expert circles by the time this study was published in 2001. Their eventual conclusions, based in part on this definition (based largely on the duration of the molestation), is as follows:

The conclusions their study came to

Here, we see a number of issues. We see that they claim that most child sexual abuse is perpetrated by pedophiles. However, actual peer-reviewed research shows a figure closer to one-third (here, see footnotes for sources). We see that they claim they “know the characteristics of the child molester” and claim that most molesters were molested themselves (a claim since debunked). For any “science” to claim we “know the characteristics of the child molester” is nothing short of ridiculous. Peer-reviewed science, as can be found in any undergraduate psychology research methods class, will always say that more study is needed and give suggestions for where to start looking in search of further information. Here, we see a number of issues. We see that they claim that most child sexual abuse is perpetrated by pedophiles. However, reputable peer-reviewed research shows a figure closer to one-third of abusers being pedophiles, not 95% (here, see footnotes for sources). While one may be tempted to point out that he says 95% of molestation, this point would not hold to scrutiny if indeed other sources put those who perpetrate it at one-third unless the one-third are mostly serial offenders. We know from research that serial molesters are extremely rare.

We see that they claim they “know the characteristics of the child molester” and claim that most molesters were molested themselves (a claim since debunked). For any “science” to claim we “know the characteristics of the child molester” is suspect.

Peer-reviewed science, as can be found in any undergraduate psychology research methods class, will always say that more study is needed and give suggestions for where to start looking in search of further information. It also replicates in other studies. This “study” does not do that. Its methods, and therefore its conclusions, can be safely rejected as fact, truth, and science because it does not follow accepted research standards.

1987 Abel and Becker Study

It is here I must pause to acknowledge a fantastic resource that originally directed me to uncovering the fraudulent “science” of Gene Abel, an article written by Kristofor Xavier with updates from Kamil Beylant. To acknowledge the highlights of the Xavier and Beylant article:

The full citation of the study in question is:

  1. Sampling bias: There were only 561 participants and 521 subjects, which came not from random sampling but from specific sources that predispose participants to being non-adjudicated offenders.
  2. Behavior causes attraction: The paper posits that what someone masturbates to drives what they wind up sexually attracted to.
  3. Viewing homosexuality as a paraphilia, not a sexual attraction: The paper views homosexuality not as a sexual orientation, but as a deviant sexual interest.
  4. Statistical ineptitude: Xavier and Beylant point out that the statistics knowledge of those writing the paper was hopelessly out of date and their conclusions are therefore flawed.

Self-reported sex crimes of nonincarcerated paraphiliacs,’ by Gene G. Abel, Judith V. Beckerman, Mary Mittelman, Jerry Cunningham-Rathner, Joanne L. Rouleau, and William D. Murphy, published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence in 1987, volume 2, pages 3 to 25

You can find the full text of this article here.

From my own analysis of the paper, I draw the following conclusions:

  1. Treating pedophilia as an act.
    1. The study, at this point, is over 34 years old with the interviews themselves occurring between 36-44 years ago.It is no longer valid, and much research has been done since on the subject with wider, more random samples and using more rigorous research methods.
  2. Moralized language rather than objective analysis.
    1. Phrases such as “we expected that the subjects would attempt to conceal some of their deviant acts,” and, “whose targets were males,” jump out and indicate not an objective, scientific analysis, but inserting motivations and speculation upon the subjects. How do we know they have deviant acts before interviewing them? Why do we believe they targeted males? Situational offenses do take place among preferential offenders. The purpose of science is to test a hypothesis and gain understanding, not assume it is true and fabricate evidence to prove it.
  3. Treating pedophilia and paraphilia as a behavior.
    1. Table 1 on page 15 (below) lists pedophilia as an act, along with many other “paraphilias” listed. Today, nobody would bat an eye at some of them. Arousal to odors, homosexuality, “obscene mail,” “obscene phone calling,” etc. They blur the line between attraction/arousal and behavior.
  4. They conclude that males are more frequently sexually abused than females.
    1. In reality, meta-analyses puts the prevalence of child sexual abuse among females at around 19% and boys around 8-9% (see here and here). It is commonly speculated that boys and girls are sexually abused at similar rates, but boys tend to disclose their abuse less, though I am not yet aware of research that demonstrates this theory.
  5. Their results do not replicate.
    1. No other research to the best of my knowledge replicates the findings of this study.This study concluded that the average number of “paraphilic acts” committed by “nonincarcerated child molesters was from 23.2 acts to 281.7 acts per offender.” Yet more recent self-report research showed that roughly 12.2% of their sample was convicted for any sexual crime against a child, far from the average number reported by Abel. It is also unclear what is meant by paraphilic acts. Do they mean only molesting children, or are they including gay sex and arousal to smell?
The list of “paraphilic acts”

Examining Gene Abel’s Myths: The Nutshell Version

The most pervasive myths arising directly from Gene Abel’s work are as follows:

  • The average pedophile molests 280 children:
    • Even if you ignore the math, Abel proposed that an average of 24-282 paraphilic acts, not how many children are molested.
    • Presuming an age of onset of pedophilia to be 14 and an average life expectancy of 72 years old, we would expect the average pedophile to molest 4.8 children a year. Given the prevalence of child sexual abuse and the estimated prevalence of pedophilia, this figure is wrong. We would expect many more victims/survivors of child sexual abuse than current figures indicate if his assertion were true or a much lower prevalence of pedophilia.
    • If Abel’s numbers are anywhere close to correct, are we really prepared to accept that the average child molester, even a serial child rapist, is capable of molesting close to 5 children every year without being caught? People like Jerry Sandusky and Jimmy Savile get caught eventually. Why are there not more of them if Abel’s numbers are correct?
  • The claim that most who molest children were molested:
    • This claim is debunked by modern research (this research shows roughly 4% of sex offenders were abused and 3% of child sexual abuse victims/survivors go on to abuse) and is incredibly harmful to victims/survivors of child sexual abuse. This myth is largely rejected by most child protection organizations. The myth about pedophiles is not, yet has more holes in it.
  • 95% of child molestation is perpetrated by pedophiles:
    • Again, more modern research indicates this is only true of roughly one-third of child sexual abuse, certainly not 95%, and the data Abel uses to reach this conclusion is skewed.

Why Gene Abel Deserves Condemnation, Not Congratulation

There are three main reasons why Gene Abel deserves to be condemned as a quack even beyond the misinformation he has spread based on his clearly poor understanding of how research methodology works.

  1. His work is biased and relies on collaboration with his wife.
    1. This is a man that included his wife in his research, a clear conflict of interest. His wife is someone with only a master’s degree to complement his own medical degree. Neither of them have expertise in psychology or social science research, and neither of them are psychologists. Abel is a psychiatrist, not a psychologist, and the majority of his claims and the methodologies he bases them on remain unsupported by modern science.
  2. He founded his own nonprofit, with his wife, which is now claims to be based in Alameda, California while their nonprofit registration points to a condo in Atlanta, Georgia with little information on who currently runs it or what their expertise is. The only name associated with their organization is their secretary. They make expert-level claims:
    1. “An ongoing sex drive directed toward children can be diagnosed by a sex-specific specialist. These specialists use objective tests, medicines, and specialized cognitive-behavioral therapy techniques that directly reduce or extinguish a sex drive directed toward children.”
      1. Fact: None of the above mentioned tests, medicines, or cognitive-behavioral therapy techniques can extinguish a sex drive towards children (reduction is possible). Their own website acts as an authoritative source, yet provides no evidence supporting their claims.
      2. Deluding someone with an attraction to children that they can “extinguish” their sex drive is a recipe for disaster if that is not in fact the case in reality. This can lead to intense self-hate, depression, failure to meet their sexual needs appropriately, risking attempts to meet those needs in socially unacceptable ways, and even suicidal thoughts. Doing this, even in the name of protecting children, is a violation of human rights and amounts to psychological torture.
  3. His failure to spread accurate information and his ongoing contributions to spreading misinformation mean that children cannot be adequately protected by evidence-based policies and an informed public. In short, it puts the attention on a boogeyman issue that is not actually an issue. This causes the real issues to go ignored. This has a cascading effect on the protection of children in the same manner that sex offender registration policies distract the public from where the real risks to children are. This cascading effect does an immeasurable amount of harm to efforts to prevent child sexual abuse. A proper scientist would amend the information they provide on encountering new information and on fresh research findings, and anyone involved in the protection of children should be doing the same. That Gene Abel does not do this is appalling. His nonprofit’s website still hosts the same wrong information, based on poor methodology and no replication, and it is unclear who runs it today.

Modern-Day Associations

As of October 13, 2021, many organizations continue to refer back to Gene Abel’s highly flawed work. Darkness to Light, for example (page 2) claims that pedophilic offenders ‘often have many victims’ and point back to a 1985 “study” done by Abel and Becker. I reached out to the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers and Darkness to Light for comment on these flawed assertions, but they have not. Unfortunately, Gene Abel remains a black stain on modern-day prevention efforts via the myths he has spread.