Inside: Learn what the Diana Screen is, how it works (or doesn’t) and what questions parents need to ask if their school is using this flawed tool.
Let me start this article out with this. Sexual predators are awful people. We all want it to stop–all forms of child abuse. And, as a parent who sends a non-speaking disabled child off into the world every day, the thought of abuse is always on my radar.
But my criticisms (to follow) of The Diana Screening should not be construed as a defense of child predators. Quite the contrary.
When we are using tools that we think prevent child abuse don’t do that, we have a false sense of security. We think we are protecting our kids.
That’s why churches and other agencies line up to purchase and use the Diana Test. They think they are protecting kids. They’re not. Let’s dig in.
My Experience with the Diana Screen
Let’s start with why I’m writing about this.
My son is to have a 1:1 nurse, per his IEP. Due to the national school staffing crisis, we have not been able to find one. Last week I was told that the agency had found one.
After some back and forth, I was given her name and her email address. Like many adults in 2023, I took to Facebook and searched for her name. I found a profile of a woman who lives in the town next to mine, and the profile stated the agency’s name. Bingo.
Nothing worth writing home about. Just a grandmother who likes to wish people well on Facebook, and an Eagles fan! Yay!
Honestly, her public posts were very reminiscent of posts my father made (he’s now deceased). The photos were often blurry, people’s heads were cut out of the photo, off-center, awkward language and punctuation in some of it. Things that, if you’re a generation who didn’t grow up with smartphones and social media, things that people do.
So, the next day, my school’s special education director called me. He said that “it’s complicated” in regards to the school nurse because she failed her Diana Screening.
This was the first I had ever heard of it, so I asked him about it. It’s an online test designed to weed out people who have a propensity toward child abuse or sexual abuse.
My immediate thought and statement to him were, “She’s a bit older, a grandma, could this have been a tech issue, like she answered some of the questions incorrectly, on accident?”
We’re still waiting for some answers and a resolution on this matter, but in the meantime, my gut told me that something wasn’t right.
So I started digging. I was reading as much as I could about this test.
I’ll try to be as succinct as I can.
The main point is this: the Diana Screening has no peer-reviewed data supporting its validity. None that I could find, and trust me, I looked. I even paid for some studies to see if it was in there, more on that in a minute.
The Diana Screening test is an online test developed by Dr. Gene Abel. Dr. Abel is quite controversial. He has devoted much of his life to studying sexual deviancy.
This Wiki article is the first thing I came across.
To be clear, most of the criticism of him is surrounding his other test, known as the Abel Assessment.
The Abel Assessment has its own set of criticism on its own wiki page.
And mind you, this is just surface-level stuff–things I was able to find on Wikipedia.
So I wanted to dig deeper.
The Diana Screen Website
Let’s go right to the source, right?
I did. The website says that the Diana Screen is “scientifically supported.” Oh, but if you want to see that science, you have to ask for it.
Ok, that feels odd. I mean, why wouldn’t you be loud and proud about the scientific evidence you had?
So, I asked for it.
I received an email the next day. It had this flyer attached to it.Diana-Screen-Information-eBooklet-2022
It’s 15 or 20 pages, and not much information. Scroll to the back to see the studies, right? The entire first page is all stuff authored by Dr. Abel. So the science that supports the product he sells, is the science/data that he created or studied? Not sure if that qualifies as peer-reviewed.
Nevertheless, I started copying and pasting the names of the “studies” into Google.
I only did the first five or so, and they’re not studies. Most of them are PowerPoint presentations that Dr. Abel did, presumably to sell the Diana Screen. (which is $2500 per agency and then $99 per applicant)
The presentations are chock full of data….but not data supporting his assessment.
It’s scare data–all kinds of facts and figures about child abuse and child molesters. Scary stuff indeed, but it doesn’t support the validity of his Diana Assessment.
The email also contained a link to another study, which they said they could not share because of copyright concerns. I am welcome to purchase it for $37.50.
This study is also co-authored by Dr. Abel, so I’ll save my money.
Diana Screen Questions
Probably the scariest portion of my internet sleuthing was coming upon sick, sick websites, full of creeps telling you how to beat this test.
So, if a person were so nefarious as to try and beat the Diana Screen, you can find instructions on how to do it.
The Atlantic Wrote:
“Although the scale is widely used in clinical and court cases, there is surprisingly little actual published research with this instrument,” the University of Wisconsin psychology professor Robert Enright wrote in 2012, voicing a concern expressed to me by a half-dozen other mental-health professionals. “There just are not enough studies to give me confidence that the scale has strong and enduring psychometric properties for use in predicting a particular person’s sexual interest.”
Diana Screen Results
The results are pass/fail. That’s it.
And, my son’s potential nurse failed.
But she’s not alone. About half of the Diana Screen tests produce false positives.
There’s a forensic psychologist in California who also has tried to find data to support the Diana Assessment.
She writes: Stated another way, that’s a false positive rate of at least 50 percent. Even if it is just a screening test, psychologists should be cautious in administering a test with such a high false-positive rate and no published, peer-reviewed data on its reliability or validity. (bold hers)
A false positive rate of 50%?!?!
So instead of protecting children, this test is potentially ruining careers for half of the people who take it. Imagine that the nursing agency now has to call this grandma and tell her that she failed a test that says she’s a potential child molester.
Do you know what else this is used for? Custody battles. Imagine losing the privilege of being with your child, even though you’re completely innocent, but failed this assessment?
For the record, yes, I know that grandmas can be child molesters. Anyone can. We all want to stop it, but this isn’t helping. And a false sense of security serves no one. Certainly not the kids.
I mean, doesn’t that actually make it worse? If someone can beat this test, they get hired, and all the other adults let their guard down because the person passed the Diana Screening. Isn’t that worse?
Dr. Abel History
I struggled to find anything that wasn’t authored or co-authored by him, despite a lengthy history of working in the field. This is what I’ve found:
- Developed a total of 7 different assessments to find sexual deviancy; none of the 7 is thought to be valid
- No peer-reviewed supporting data for his assessments
- Lots of scare tactics, to scare you into purchasing this assessment
- The testimonials on the site sound hollow, and speak to “we’re so glad we could purchase this product” and not much support as to whether or not it works
- The history or story behind the name Diana feels really disingenuous. I certainly wouldn’t expect to find real names and photos, but it sounds awfully contrived.
When you read his findings and data, it all points to supporting the 3-parts or 3 components of methodology he uses. But not a conclusive finding that putting those 3 parts together comes up with a valid test for possible sex offenders.
He also argues that having a flawed assessment is better than no assessment at all. That assessments like this are needed. That was seen in the Atlantic, which I won’t link to because you have to pay to access it.
We do need to do something–but not something that doesn’t work and is incredibly flawed.
Supporters of the Abel Assessments
You can find a moderate amount of support for the Diana Assessment. However, much of it reeks of desperation.
It’s mostly of the “Well sexual abuse is a HUGE PROBLEM and we have to do SOMETHING” so let’s do this.
Why? Why would we spend money and resources on something that doesn’t work?
Question the Diana Test
After spending waaayyyy too much time on this, I am left with more questions than answers. But, if your school or agency is using the Diana Screening, these are questions we all should be asking.
- Why isn’t there any peer-reviewed data or evidence to support the validity of this assessment? Why aren’t Dr. Abel’s peers lining up to review this tool, to help end child abuse?
- Why are Dr. Abel’s assessments inadmissible in court, in so many states?
- What about neurodivergence? Is this assessment calibrated for IDD, autism, and other disabilities or cultural differences?
Perhaps the biggest question of all is–what are we doing to protect our kids? Because they do need protection.
But a flawed online assessment is not protecting them.