Controversial Treatment Practices

Some policies and practices currently used in the treatment and supervision of adolescents with illegal sexual behavior are controversial, meaning that experts in the field disagree as to whether they are necessary, appropriate, or effective. These controversial practices include the use of 1) the use of the polygraph (lie detector); 2) visual reaction time such as the Abel Assessment of Sexual Interests; and 3) plethysmograph testing (a device placed on a penis to measure arousal). Due to its lack of reliability, the results of a polygraph are not accepted in court proceedings. The use of the plethysmograph and polygraph were originally designed for and implemented with adult sex offenders to increase the effectiveness of treatment and reduce recidivism. Though widely used with adult sex offenders, minimal evidence exists that proves that the methods are effective in reducing future sex offenses. No research indicates that the approaches increase treatment effectiveness or reduce re-offense rates when used with adolescents. 

Despite this lack of evidence, these controversial practices continue to be used by some programs as part of the treatment and supervision of adolescents. Without clear evidence that they are effective with adolescents, such methods should be used with caution in a limited number of cases when there is a clear therapeutic rationale, such as when there is a question of whether a 16 year old or older has persistent sexual interests involving prepubescent children. 

Parents should be aware that these methods are controversial. They should discuss which treatment and supervision methods will be used with their adolescent, and their necessity, with their teen’s treatment provider and probation officer and the teen’s attorney. Although these methods are recognized as controversial, they are permitted and used in some areas and by some providers.

Tips to Remember
1 The use of methods, such as a plethysmograph and polygraph, are controversial in treatment of adolescents.
2 Parents should obtain information about methods that will be used in their teen's treatment program.