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Juvenile Sex offenders

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While juveniles who commit sex offenses can be considered a group, their prognoses, recidivism rates and responses to treatment are often based on individual characteristics that vary greatly within the group. "They differ according to victim and offense characteristics and a wide range of other variables, including types of offending behaviors, histories of child maltreatment, sexual knowledge and experiences, academic and cognitive functioning, and mental health issues (Knight and Prentky, 1993; Weinrott, 1996)." (Righthand & Welch, 2001,p. 11)

One of the many factors that makes grouping these offenders in a meaningful way difficult is that they often differ greatly from adult sex offenders. The most important difference being that they are more responsive to treatment. Comorbidity, however, is one factor that adult and juvenile sex offenders, who have a paraphilia, have in common. According to the Saleh and Vincent article "high comorbidity with other psychiatric disorders is common." (Saleh & Vincent, 2005, p. 9) The Center for Sex Offender Management states that, "Up to 80% have a diagnosable psychiatric disorder." (Freeman-Longo & Reback, 2000, p. 7)

One of the recurring issues found in this group is common cognitive distortions regarding sexual relationships and personal interactions. "A study of 1,600 juvenile sex offenders from 30 States (Ryan et al., 1996) found that only about one-third of the juveniles perceived sex as a way to demonstrate love or caring for another person; others perceived sex as a way to feel power and control (23.5 percent), to dissipate anger (9.4 percent), or to hurt, degrade, or punish (8.4 percent)." (Righthand & Welch, 2001,p. 12) Additionally, some factors that are common among abused children strongly affect the juvenile sexual offender's justifications for their offenses. "Cognitive distortions, such as blaming the victim, are associated with sexual reoffending in juveniles (Kahn and Chambers, 1991; Schram, Milloy, and Rowe, 1991)." (Righthand & Welch, 2001,p. 13)

Most identified juvenile sex offenders are male. This makes more sense in the light of the common occurrence of sexual abuse experienced by these offenders. According to Barbaree and Marshall, while girls internalize their responses to this type of abuse, "boys are more likely to show the negative effects of child sexual abuse behaviorally, as evident in externalizing factors (such as antisocial behavior and suicidality). "(Barbaree & Marshall, 2006, p. 66)

"Further compounding the problem is the prevalence of conduct disorder and antisocial traits associated with this population. Some are found to have higher rates of depression and impulse control issues as well. " (Righthand & Welch, 2001,p. 13)Additionally, many juvenile sex offenders have committed non-sexually motivated offenses before committing sexual offenses, "adolescent sex offenders tended to have criminal records that included non-sex-related offenses. (Kelley & Lewis, 2004)

Because of the heterogeneity within this group some researchers have divided them according to what type of victim is associated with their offenses. " Carpenter et al. (1995) found that peer offenders displayed more narcissistic traits, whereas the child offenders showed more schizoid, avoidant and dependent traits." (Oxnam & Vess, 2006, 90) Other programs have subscribed to individual assessment questionaires. One of the more popular versions is the JSOAP II. "One widely accepted protocol to evaluate adolescent sex offenders is the Juvenile Sex Offender Assessment Protocol--II (J-SOAP-II; Prentky & Righthand, 2003). (Caldwell & Ziemke, 2008, 92) In the JSOAP II Manual, the authors describe some of the difficulties of using a risk assessment tool on a juvenile population, "Unlike adults, adolescents are still very much "in flux." No aspect of their development, including their cognitive development, is fixed or stable. In addition, their life circumstances often are very unstable." (Righthand & Prentky, 2003, p. 1) The creators of the manual also recommend reassessment at least every six months. Despite this, there are questions as to whether the JSOAP II is a reliable indicator of whether an offender will offend again and some states have gone as far as to develop their own assessment tools as an alternative or adjunct to the JSOAP II.


Federal Bureau of Investigation data (as cited in Sipe, Jensen, and Everett, 1998) indicate that in 1995, 15.8 percent of arrests for forcible rape and 17 percent of arrests for all other sex offenses involved persons under 18 years old. (Righthand & Welch, 2001,p. 23)

According to the Center for Sex Offender Management, juveniles were responsible for about half of all cases of child molestation. (Freeman-Longo & Reback, 2000, p. 5) Although juvenile sex offenders have fewer victims than adult offenders, (NCSBY Fact Sheet) the prevalence of this behavior is still high.


There are many theories as to what causes a juvenile to act out in sexually abusive ways. This is due, in part, because of the lack of homogeneity within this group. Cognitive models address faulty perceptions among these offenders. "An abusive adolescent will use his own distortions of reality to rationalize his behavior, thus allowing him to continue in his offending without feeling guilt or regret."(52) (Martin & Pruett, 1998) This theory addresses how the offender justifies the behavior.

Conditioning and social learning theory look more to the environment of the juvenile. "This model points to the physical and sexual abuse that most adolescent perpetrators encountered in their own lives as a set of events that they subsequently re-enact, viewing themselves as moving from the role of the child victim to that of the powerful perpetrator. This model also considers deviant sexual behavior as a habitual response that is compulsive, heavily patterned, and ritualized, which in turn makes it difficult to extinguish." (Martin & Pruett, 1998) This research also links highly habitual responses to increased risks of recidivism.

Additional factors that are often focused on in the environment are the family living situations. "Factors such as family instability, disorganization, and violence have been found to be prevalent among juveniles who engage in sexually abusive behavior (Bagley and Shewchuk-Dann, 1991; Miner, Siekert, and Ackland, 1997; Morenz and Becker, 1995)." (Righthand & Welch, 2001,p. 12) The



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