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


There are many reasons why it is important to consider juvenile sex offenders: (1) a small, yet noteworthy, number of adults begin to sexually offend when they are juveniles; (2) juveniles account for a substantial portion of arrests for sex crimes; (3) some juveniles commit serious, violent sex crimes; and (4) sex-offender treatment may need to be modified to meet the specific needs of juveniles.

With regard to continued offending from adolescence to adulthood, it has been noted recently that juvenile sex offenders and adult sex offenders are distinct groups (Lussier & Blockland, 2014). A large percentage of juvenile sex offenders desist—that is, they do not continue offending into adulthood. Adult sex offenders, likewise, do not always begin offending during adolescence.

Knowing that some do begin to offend when they are young can have important implications. Early intervention can prevent future victimizations. If treatment can be provided, not only can the juvenile go on to a healthy and successful future; many victims can be spared.

It is also important to examine juvenile sex offenders because they account for a substantial portion of arrests for sex crimes. In 2014, the FBI reported 1,501 arrests of juveniles for forcible rape (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2016). This accounted for 15% of the total estimated number of arrests for these offenses. With regard to other sex crimes (excluding prostitution and rape), juveniles accounted for 18% of the arrests in 2014. In 2005, they accounted for 21% of the arrests for other sex crimes. This is a critical point to note, as a perception of juvenile sex offenders is that they are accounting for an increasingly large percentage of sex crimes. This is not accurate.

An expert in the field, David Finkelhor, who is the Director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, indicated that any increase in juvenile sex offending likely represents an increase in the reporting of sex crimes to legal officials rather than a true increase (Jones, 2007). This is worth noting. As reported in Chapter 1, official statistics on sex offenders are imperfect measures of the true number of sex offenders and may reflect more of what legal officials know than offenders actually do.

Juvenile sex offenders often commit crimes that go beyond "simply experimenting" and include violent crimes. For example, each year a few teenagers not only commit rape—they also commit sexual murders. Noted psychiatrist, Wade Myers, describes some of his encounters with them:

I subsequently crossed paths with other juvenile murderers during my child psychiatry training. As a consultant to the local juvenile detention center, I had the opportunity to evaluate a variety of children charged with homicide ... I was struck by how different these homicides were: each child had a unique story and set of life circumstances that set the stage for their crime. But without question, the most perplexing juvenile cases were the sexual murderers I began to see during my consultation work. My first encounter with this sort of offense involved a 13-year old boy with rape fantasies who clumsily committed his crime on the way home from school. I went to my textbooks and the scientific literature to learn what I could about this type of crime by youth. I came up nearly empty-handed aside from a few case reports, some decades old.

(Myers, 2002, pp. 4-5)

Juvenile sexual murders are rare; thus, the research is limited.

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