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CHARACTERISTICS OF JUVENILE SEX OFFENDERS

One persistent question in the sex offending literature is whether juvenile sex offenders differ from other offenders. This question, however, is difficult to answer as research has only recently begun. As noted in Chapter 1, obtaining large enough samples of adult sex offenders is difficult. Given that there are even fewer juvenile sex offenders, the problem is magnified. Another problem is that the comparison group is often juveniles who have committed non-sex crimes. Thus, they are compared to another group of offenders rather than a community sample. Despite these obstacles, researchers have been able to garner some information that may shed light on distinguishing juvenile sex offenders from juvenile nonsex offenders.

Family Dysfunction

Juvenile sex offenders have high rates of family problems (Righthand & Welch, 2004). They often grow up in dysfunctional families, including exposure to marital violence and parents who engaged in substance abuse and other crimes (Mano- cha & Mezey, 1998).

One study found that the parents of juvenile sex offenders are often disengaged, aloof, and emotionally inaccessible (Miner & Crimmins, 1995). Family conflict is pervasive (Lightfoot & Evans, 2000). One study found that juveniles who had committed sexual abuse, compared to those who had not, were more likely to have had a change in primary caretakers (Awad & Saunders, 1991). Other researchers have found that three-fourths of their sample of juvenile sex offenders were exposed to violence against a female victim (Hunter, Figueredo, Malamuth, & Becker, 2003). Ninety percent of the sample were exposed to a male who exhibited antisocial behavior. Fifty-four percent witnessed a male relative assault a woman. Also, 49% had witnessed a related male threaten another male. Sixty-three percent of the sample had experienced physical abuse by a father/stepfather. Seventy-five percent reported sexual victimization. Thus, the overwhelming portion of studies show that family dysfunction is common among this population of sex offenders.

 
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