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Home arrow Philosophy arrow Sex Crimes and Sex Offenders: Research and Realities
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Juvenile Sex Offenders

CHAPTER OBJECTIVES

  • • Describe the number and characteristics of known juvenile sex offenders.
  • • Compare/contrast categories of juvenile sex offenders according to different typologies.
  • • Summarize explanations of juvenile sex crimes.
  • • Describe criminal justice responses to juvenile sex offenders.
  • • Distinguish various assessment and treatment techniques for juvenile sex offenders.
  • • Discuss recidivism rates of juvenile sex offenders.
  • • Describe rare groups of juvenile sex offenders.

When one thinks of a sex offender, a middle-aged or old man who lurks in the bushes waiting for his next victim might come to mind. As noted in previous chapters, however, sex offenders are a heterogeneous group. This is also true of juvenile sex offenders. They commit diverse sex crimes. In this chapter, we provide a summary of the theories, research, and realities of juveniles who commit sex crimes. Although the focus is on juvenile sex offenders, some researchers use the term adolescents; hence, both terms are used in this chapter. The purpose of this chapter is not to present all of the available information on juvenile sex offenders, as the scope of that information is too broad for this one chapter. Several authors have written entire books on this topic, which shows the amount of available information is vast.

Media often misrepresent this group of offenders by reporting only the most serious cases. For example, the following newspaper headlines have referred to juvenile sex offenders: "Juvenile Sex Offenders in School with Your Kids" and "Registered Juvenile Sex Offender in Brandenton Facing New Sexual Battery Charge." The public is often led to believe these offenders are poised to prey on schoolmates. There is an assumption in these headlines that juvenile sex offenders are predatory and often repeat their offenses. While some juvenile sex offenders may be predatory and some may be repeat offenders, the largest portion of juvenile sex offenders are neither predatory nor repeat offenders. One of the goals of this chapter is to dispel some of the myths and false assumptions about juvenile sex offenders.

Critical to dispelling these myths and identifying how heterogeneous this group of offenders is, this chapter presents the characteristics of juvenile sex offenders, including their family background, intelligence/academic abilities, substance abuse, emotional intelligence, range of abusive behaviors, victim characteristics, and extent of mental illness. The reader will find that juvenile sex offenders, as a group, are diverse on all of these characteristics.

Law enforcement officials and practitioners who work with juvenile sex offenders in developing treatment plans often rely on typologies. Thus, we discuss various typologies that have been developed from empirical studies. Typologies also serve as a way to describe the characteristics of juvenile sex offenders. They reveal how heterogeneous juvenile sex offenders are. For example, one way juvenile sex offenders differ is by the type of victim they choose—peers or other individuals, which is discussed in this chapter. One may notice in reading this chapter, however, that there is a relatively weak link between the typologies that have been developed and the explanations that have been proposed for them. Much of this is due to the state of the research on the topic—it is still relatively new, and many gaps exist in the topics presented here.

In Chapter 10, we discuss the various assessment tools that researchers have developed and practitioners use to evaluate juveniles, as many of those developed for adults cannot be applied to juveniles. While the literature on adults has existed for several decades, research on juvenile sex offenders did not begin until more recently. Nevertheless, the research that does exist sheds light on this population of offenders. A substantial amount of the research appeared in the 1990s and 2000s, which is relied upon for this chapter. Separate assessment tools have been developed because the factors that predict recidivism for juvenile sex offenders differ from those for adult sex offenders.

This chapter also provides a description of the treatment and the recidivism rates of juvenile sex offenders. With regard to treatment, despite the heterogeneity of juvenile sex offenders, cognitive-behavioral treatment is often used—similar to what is used for adult sex offenders. This type of treatment, however, does involve conducting thorough assessments, which allows for cognitive-behavioral treatment to take into consideration individual differences and tailor the treatment for individual offenders. Other types of treatments that have been used with some degree of success are also discussed.

A central myth regarding juvenile sex offenders is that they are all male, predatory, and dangerous. It is also assumed they will escalate over time to commit more serious offenses. Some research has been conducted on rare groups of sex offenders, such as female juvenile sex offenders and juveniles who not only rape, but also kill. Research relying on rare groups is also described to dispel this myth.

 
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