Behaviors of Adolescent Sex Offenders
Adolescent sex offenders can be classified based on categories of offenders, type of their victims and the manner of their offenses. Valid empirical typologies should show distinct profiles of juvenile sex offenders, and the characteristic of their offenses that reflect the underlying psychological problems or disorders. This is very crucial because this information can be used to evaluate the unique needs of each group relevant to clinical intervention and assessment of recidivism. Recent research has primarily subdivided the juvenile sexual offenders based on the age of their victims, history of delinquency, their personality.
Subtypes Based on Victims Age
Research shows that male adolescent sexual offenders who commit sexual offenses against their peers or older females have a history of antisocial behavior going back and coincides with when they committed the crime. They also come from families with disturbed backgrounds and are recidivists. Juveniles who assault females of their age or older are not socially isolated and are likely to interact with older peers. Alcohol and drug abuse were not found to play any significant role in the juvenile sexual offenders with this behavior. The primary motivating factors for the majority of these types of adolescent sexual offenders were found to be the antisocial behavior and deviant sexual impulses.
Juveniles who sexually offended children are likely to be pessimists and less self-sufficient than their counterparts who offend against their peers and adults (Charles & McDonald, 2005). Juvenile sex offenders who offend against children usually lack in social competencies and feel inferior to the peers. Committing this crime is a seen as more of a compensatory action and a reflection of arrested sexual experience as opposed to pedophilic interest. Some of the offenders in this subgroup are female.
A study to compare the juveniles who offended against children and those who offended against peers or adults concluded that meaningful differences could be observed between these two types of offenders (Hunter, Hazelwood, & Slesinger, 2000). Adolescent sexual offenders who victimize peers or older people are likely to have committed the crimes in groups and the crimes are usually aggressive with the use of weapons involved. They are also likely to select both strangers and acquitted females as their victims. The offenders also commit the offense in public, and the offense is likely to be related to another criminal activity. A juvenile sex offender who targeted children were submissive, dependent, mostly selected relatives as their victims, and were less aggressive in committing the offense compared to their ones who offended peers and adults.
Subtypes Based Delinquent History
In this category, the adolescents are evaluated based on their childhood conduct difficulties, the risk of future delinquency, antisocial behaviors and beliefs, and current character adjustment. A recent research took the criminal records of adolescent sex offenders and divided the offenders into two groups; into sex only offenders and sex plus offenders. Sex only offenders are the ones charged with sex crimes only while sex plus offenders are juveniles who have prior nonsexual offenses. The study found that sex-only offenders had less childhood conduct difficulties, had more prosocial attitudes, better character adjustment, and lower risk of future delinquency. Sex-plus offenders were found to be at a higher risk of committing the crimes again (Aebi, Vogt, Plattner, Steinhausen, & Bessler, 2011).
It was also found that these juvenile sex offenders shared common issues with general delinquents with many of them showing similar criminal patterns. This was interpreted to mean that the sex offense by adolescents was part of a much larger pattern of antisocial behavior seen in a portion of the public adolescent population.
Subtypes Based on Victim’s Age and Personality Characteristics
The Virginia’s Department of Youth and Family services compared the personality characteristics of adolescents who sexually offended against peers and adults, and adolescents who offended against children. The juveniles who sexually offended children were found to be shy and avoided social interactions with their peers. Due to this reason, these adolescent sex offenders are usually isolated and experience loneliness. On the other hand, juvenile sex offenders exhibited arrogance, inflated self-esteem, and interpersonal exploitation.
Researchers analyzed the California Psychological Inventory Score of sexual offenders aged between 12 and years (Worling, 2002). The results from the analysis showed that there were four distinct personality based character subtypes. The first was antisocial; that are likely to commit sexual offenses as a way of rebelling against the rules and not because of sexual arousal. The second is isolated; most seem to be emotionally disturbed, unhappy, and anxious (Chassman, 2006). Their sexual offenses are initially because of sexual arousal. The third is reserved; they are hesitant to socialize with other people. The fourth is overconfident; they socialize with other people, are self-centered, and aggressive. The research also showed that adolescents with antisocial and isolated behaviors were likely to be convicted of subsequent violent or non-violent sexual offenses.
Another study used the personality pattern score scores on a sample of adolescent sexual offenders. Based on their findings, the study described five subgroups; normal; antisocial; submissive; inhibited and negativistic. The study provided evidence of diversity in adolescent sexual offenders’ personality characteristic and psychopathology.
Juvenile offenders account for 17% of forcible rape cases and 20% of all other sex crimes reported in the United States. This has caused growing concern in the country for the past decade. There are some etiological factors that have been put forward to explain the growth and origin of sexual offending among teenagers.
Physical and Sexual Abuse
Physical abuse history has been found in 20% to 50% of all juvenile sex offenders, and a history of sexual abuse in 40% and 80% of all adolescent sex offenders (Rongen, 2011). These rates are higher in female offenders and sexual offenders who target children. Research shows that the age of onset, frequency of abuse, time elapsed before the incidence were first reported and family awareness to the abuse cases are all relevant in understanding why adolescent commit sexual crimes.
Symptoms of Post-Traumatic stress disorder that is considered an effect of physical and sexual abuse has been observed in children under the age of 13 and the females with sexual behavior disorder. These symptoms include frequent and intrusive recollections of traumatic experience and high levels of anger and irritation. Another presence of child abuse including neglect may prove to be a significant factor in influencing sexual offending behaviors.
Exposure to Aggressive Role Models
Research shows that male children who witness acts of domestic violence tend to have externalizing behaviors more than female children (Hughes, Bean, & Harper, 2015). These acts include interpersonal aggression and acting out of psychological tension. Exposure to family violence and the extent of psychosexual disturbance has been associated with the likelihood the children committing sexual offenses in future. The influence of this exposure to the behavior of a child may be cumulative or interactive with other forms negative developmental experiences like neglect and abuse. Exposure to societal violence like murders has also been linked with the increase in the chances of adolescents engaging in antisocial and violent behaviors.
There is substantial evidence to support the relationship between violent crimes and alcohol drinking. However, research on the use of substance abuse and sexual offending in adolescents varies widely. A study conducted in 2010 showed that juvenile sexual offenders found to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs while committing the crime ranged from 3.4% to 72% (Leversee, 2012).. Although the relationship between drug and substance abuse is unclear, many juvenile sex offenders have been found to have drug abuse problems.
The effect of pornography on teenagers’ potential to commit sexual offenses is also controversial. Several studies done in the past have been producing conflicting results. One study showed that only 11% of juvenile sex offenders sampled had used pornographic media. Another study conducted in a sample of 30 adolescent sex offenders found that most of them were exposed to pornographic materials at a young age. Also, a recent study showed that 42% of juvenile sex offenders had been exposed to hardcore pornographic magazines compared to only 29% of juvenile violent non-sex offenders (Leversee, 2012)..
Deviant Sexual Interest
A small percentage of sexually abusive adolescents exhibit deviant sexual interests and arousal patterns like sexual attraction to young children. These patterns are recurrent and intense and are directly related to the nature of sexual offenses. Although deviant sexual arousal patterns are mostly observed in adult offenders with pedophilic interests, the patterns are more interchangeable in juvenile offenders and does not relate directly to their crime patterns. Research has shown that the highest level of deviant sexual arousal is found in juveniles who target young males, particularly for penetration (Slowikowski, 2009).
Academic and Cognitive Functioning
Most studies show that adolescent sex offenders often had trouble in their academics. However, one study showed that only 32% of a sample of male adolescent sex offenders had below average academic performance.
Researches that focus on the relationship between intellectual and cognitive performance and juvenile sex offenses are limited. However, the few studies done suggest that this factor has some significance. A study conducted in 1996 showed that between 25% and 33% of adolescent sex offenders have some neurological impairment.
Studies have found that abused children tend to have some behaviors like lack of empathy, inability to comprehend appropriate emotions, and inability to see another person’s perspective all of which may contribute to sex crimes. This is consistent with other studies that have found cognitive distortions like blaming victims for sexual offenses are related with sexual reoffending among juveniles.
Prevention and Intervention
Early intervention in cases of adolescent sex offenders is very important in ensuring that the perpetrators do not repeat their offenses in future. The timing of the intervention program is critical in ensuring its success. It is recommended that the intervention programs are started well before the behaviors in the teenagers become chronic. This is true for all typologies of adolescent sex offenders.
The advantage of early intervention in adolescents is that there is more potential for behavior change, and they respond better to treatment. The ones who are victims of abuse are closer to their abuse; this is important because dealing with their own abuse is an important step in treatment. Early intervention also relays a direct a message to the offenders that the society is against their behaviors.
Adolescent sex offenders’ treatment programs are based on the adult offenders’ programs (Grant, Indermaur, & Thornton, 2009). Most of these programs do not give the appropriate attention they deserve and mostly focus on individual and group therapies.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is one of the treatment methods used for adolescent offenders. This method targets deviant sexual arousal, antisocial skills, cognitive distortions, the deficit in victim empathy, and relapse prevention. There are studies that have shown the method results in positive treatment outcomes.
Individual psychotherapy is targeted at specific issues that may have contributed to the offending behavior in the adolescents. However, the major problem in with his method of treatment is that it does not include family issues and cannot be effective when used alone.
Group therapy provides a safe environment for juvenile sex offenders where issues like sex education, social skills, and cognitive distortion are addressed. The strength of this type of therapy is it makes it difficult for offenders to deny their behaviors.
Family therapy is used in situations where there are abuse cases. The therapy provides sex education and is important in disruption of abusive cycles by targeting their communication patterns.
Aebi, M., Vogt, G., Plattner, B., Steinhausen, H.-C., & Bessler, C. (2011). Offender types and criminality dimensions in male Juveniles convicted of sexual offenses. Sex Abuse, 24(3), 265–288. doi:10.1177/1079063211420449
Charles, G., & McDonald, M. (2005). Adolescent sexual offenders. Online Journal of the International Child and Youth Care Network, 1(80), . Retrieved from http://www.cyc-net.org/cyc-online/cycol-0905-charles.html
Chassman, L. (2006). Adolescents with sexual behavior problems i. Retrieved from http://www.animalassistedtherapyprograms.org/documents/Submissionpdf.pdf
Grant, J., Indermaur, D., & Thornton, J. (2009). Intrafamilial adolescent sex offenders: Psychological profile and treatment. Retrieved April 12, 2016, from Australian Institute of Criminology, http://www.aic.gov.au/publications/current%20series/tandi/361-380/tandi375.html
Hughes, A. A., Bean, R. A., & Harper, J. M. (2015). Sexual abuse and subsequent risky sexual behaviors: A competency model for treatment of adolescent females. The American Journal of Family Therapy, 43(4), 326–338. doi:10.1080/01926187.2015.1051897
Hunter, J. A., Hazelwood, R. R., & Slesinger, D. (2000). Juvenile-Perpetrated Sex Crimes: Patterns of Offending and Predictors of Violence. Journal of Family Violence, 15(1), 81–93. doi:10.1023/a:1007553504805
Leversee, T. (2012). Chapter 2: Etiology and Typologies of Juveniles who have committed sexual offenses. Retrieved April 12, 2016, from Office of Justice Programs, http://www.smart.gov/SOMAPI/sec2/ch2_etiology.html
Rongen, K. (2011). Current perspectives on Juveniles who sexually offend presented by Kecia Rongen WA state DSHS juvenile rehabilitation administration 2011. Retrieved from http://www.wcsap.org/sites/www.wcsap.org/files/uploads/webinars/Juveniles%20Who%20Commit%20Sex%20Offenses/Slides.pdf
Slowikowski, J. (2009). Juveniles who commit sex offenses against minors. Retrieved from http://www.unh.edu/ccrc/pdf/CV171.pdf
Worling, J. R. (2002). Sexual abuse histories of adolescent male sex offenders: Differences on the basis of the age and gender of their victims. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 104(4), 610–613. doi:10.1037/0021-843x.104.4.610