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Myths & Facts About Adolescent Sexual Offenders

by Dore Frances, Ph.D., founder of Horizon Family Solutions, LLC
There are many misconceptions about adolescent sexual offenses, sexual offense victims, and sex offenders in our society. Much has been learned about these behaviors and populations in the past decade and this information is being used to develop more effective individualized and intensive residential treatment interventions throughout the country.

Myth: "Juvenile sex offenders typically are victims of child sexual abuse and grow up to be adult sex offenders."

Fact: Multiple factors, not just sexual victimization as a child, are associated with the development of sexually offending behavior in youth.

Recent studies show that rates of physical and sexual abuse vary widely for adolescent sex offenders; 20 to 50% of these youth experienced physical abuse and approximately 40 to 80% experienced sexual abuse (Hunter and Becker, 1998).

While many adolescents who commit sexual offenses have histories of being abused, the majority of these youth do not become adult sex offenders (Becker and Murphy, 1998). Research suggests that the age of onset and number of incidents of abuse, the period of time elapsing between the abuse and its first report, perceptions of how the family responded to the disclosure of abuse, and exposure to domestic violence all are relevant to why some sexually abused youths go on to sexually perpetrate while others do not (Hunter and Figueredo, in press).

Myth: "Most sexual assaults are committed by strangers."

Fact: Most sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the victim or the victim's family, regardless of whether the victim is a child or an adult.

Child Victims:

Approximately 60% of boys and 80% of girls who are sexually victimized are abused by someone known to the child or the child's family (Lieb, Quinsey, and Berliner, 1998). Relatives, friends, baby-sitters, persons in positions of authority over the child, or persons who supervise children are more likely than strangers to commit a sexual assault.

Myth: "Youths do not commit sex offenses."

Fact: Adolescents are responsible for a significant number of rape and child molestation cases each year.

Sexual assaults committed by youth are a growing concern in this country.

Currently, it is estimated that adolescents (ages 13 to 17) account for up to one-fifth of all rapes and one- half of all cases of child molestation committed each year (Barbaree, Hudson, and Seto, 1993). In 1995, youth were involved in 15% of all forcible rapes cleared by arrest- approximately 18 adolescents per 100,000 were arrested for forcible rape. In the same year, approximately 161,000 adolescents were arrested for sexual offenses, excluding rape and prostitution (Sickmund, Snyder, Poe-Yamagata, 1997). The majority of these incidents of sexual abuse involve adolescent male perpetrators however, prepubescent youths also engage in sexually abusive behaviors.

Myth: "Treatment for adolescent sex offenders is ineffective."

Fact: Adolescent treatment programs can contribute to community safety because those who attend and cooperate with program conditions are less likely to re-offend than those who never receive treatment intervention.

The majority of adolescent sex offender treatment programs in the United States and Canada now use a combination of cognitive-behavioral treatment and relapse prevention (designed to help adolescent sex offenders maintain behavioral changes by anticipating and coping with the problem of relapse). Offense specific treatment modalities generally involve group and/or individual therapy focused on victimization awareness and empathy training, cognitive restructuring, learning about the sexual abuse cycle, relapse prevention planning, anger management and assertiveness training, social and interpersonal skills development, and changing deviant sexual arousal patterns. Different types of offenders typically respond to different residential treatment methods. Treatment effectiveness is often related to multiple factors, including:

  • The type of adolescent sexual offender (e.g., incest offender or rapist)
  • The residential treatment model being used (e.g., cognitive-behavioral, relapse prevention, psycho-educational, psycho-dynamic, or pharmacological)
  • The treatment modalities being used

    Several studies present optimistic conclusions about the effectiveness of residential treatment programs that are empirically based, offense-specific, and comprehensive.

    Research also demonstrates that adolescent sex offenders who fail to complete their full residential treatment programs are at increased risk for both sexual and general recidivism.

    Characteristics Of Adolescent Sex Offenders:

    • 20-50% have histories of physical abuse
    • 30-60% exhibit learning disabilities and academic dysfunction
    • 40-80% have histories of sexual abuse
    • Adolescent sex offenders are typically between the ages of 13 and 17
    • Many have difficulties with impulse control and judgment
    • They are generally male
    • Up to 80% have a diagnosable psychiatric disorder
    • Because experience to date indicates that sexually abusive behaviors develop steadily over time, early intervention is clearly needed.

  • Dore Frances, IEC, is an educcational consultant, childs right advocate, parent coach, specializing in working with troubled teens and their families in the United States, Canda, and abroad. See her site at: or contact her by phone at:(541) 312-4422, or email
    See our listing on ISER.COM

    Disclaimer: Internet Special Education Resources (ISER) provides this information in an effort to help parents find local special education professionals and resources. ISER does not recommend or endorse any particular special education referral source, special educational methodological bias, type of special education professional, or specific special education professional.


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