JUVENILE SEX-OFFENDER RECIDIVISM
Although research shows that a relatively small number of juveniles who sexually offend are arrested for another sex crime when they reach adulthood, many of these juveniles do go on to commit a non-sexual crime. Research shows that juvenile sex offenders are not more likely than juvenile non-sex offenders to commit a subsequent sex crime. In a comparison of juveniles who had committed a sex crime to juveniles in a correctional treatment facility who had no history of committing a sex crime, 12% of the juvenile sex offenders had a new sex-crime charge, compared to 12% of the non-sex offending juveniles (Caldwell, Ziemke, & Vitacco, 2008). Other researchers have also noted that once juveniles have committed a sex crime, there will not necessarily be a pattern of sexual offending (Becker, 1998).
Research suggests that juvenile sex offenders with only one sex crime on their record have low rates of recidivism when they are in a community-based treatment program as compared to those in a more restrictive setting (Rasmussen, 1999). The following excerpt is from a New York Times Magazine article on juvenile sex offenders and discusses juvenile sex-offender recidivism:
When I heard about these juveniles, I wondered ... [w]ould they become adult offenders? I asked Mark Chaffin, one of the country's leading experts and the director of research at the Center on Child Abuse and Neglect at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. Chaffin notes that while most juveniles who have committed sex crimes are boys around 13 or 14, in other ways they are not a homogeneous population. Though a small percentage — no one knows how many — will become adult rapists or pedophiles, the vast majority, 90% or more, will not, Chaffin says. Most have not committed violent assaults or abused multiple children repeatedly. Usually they have had sexual contact — from fondling to oral sex to intercourse — with a child who is at least two years younger than they are. Also, many of the juveniles have been sexually abused themselves, and as a consequence, they act out sexually, typically for a transitory period.
(Jones, 2007, n.p.)
Existing research shows that the age of the victim may be a relevant factor in the range of offense behaviors and whether a juvenile sexually recidivates. For example, one study assessed the sexual behavior during the offense and the recidivism rates of juvenile sex offenders who assaulted (1) peers, (2) children, and (3) both peers and children (i.e., mixed victims). Although the smallest number of offenders was in the mixed-victim category, they engaged in the most diverse and most intrusive sexual behavior. More specifically, those with mixed victims were more likely to assault multiple victims at one time, vaginally penetrate the victim(s), and engage in oral sex (Kemper & Kistner, 2007).
With regard to recidivism rates, the sample was followed for an average of 5.2 years. The recidivism rates for non-sexual offenses varied only slightly among the three groups: those who had peer victims had the highest rate of recidivism (46%), followed by those with mixed victims (43%) and those with child victims (41%). The recidivism rates for sexual offenses did vary among the groups, although the rates were, overall, low. Those who had child victims had an 8% sexual recidivism rate, while those who offended against mixed victims had a 5% sexual recidivism rate, and those who offended against peers had the lowest sexual recidivism rate of only 1% (Kemper & Kistner, 2007).
A meta-analysis conducted to examine the question, "how many juveniles who have been identified as a juvenile sex offender re-offend?" provides some answers. The rate of sexual recidivism among juvenile sex offenders was examined in 63 studies that included a very large sample of juvenile sex offenders: 11,219. On average, offenders were followed for approximately five years. Sexual recidivism was measured by using arrest or conviction information, depending on availability. The average sexual-recidivism rate was approximately 7%. Thus, only 7% of 11,219 juvenile sex offenders were re-arrested or re-convicted within an average follow-up period of five years. Recidivism for any offense (sexual or non-sexual) for the sample was 43%. The findings are consistent with those from previous studies: the sexual-recidivism rate of juvenile sex offenders is relatively low, yet the rate of general recidivism is higher. It was also found that studies of adolescents revealed much higher sexual-recidivism rates than studies that only examined adults in their follow-up period. Thus, it appears that once juveniles reach the threshold of "adult," their chances of sexually recidivating decrease substantially (Caldwell, 2010).