Juvenile Sex Offenders, Term Paper Example

Abstract

An investigation on the Juvenile sex offenders is examined on the severity of emotional psychological and pathological deficits, anxiety, interpersonal, social failings, and measure the sociometric measures of interpersonal adjustments in which identifies the need of social support, treatment, and self-awareness. The data in previous clinical trials has proven that a Multisystematic treatment (MST) is the best approach to use in treating Juvenile sex offenders, as they had reduced in arrests, days of incarceration, youth mental health problems, and increased family cohesion and self-adaptability of  interpersonal adjustments. Although, there is a significant problem associated with Juvenile sex offenders on their ability to explore their attributions, beliefs, attitudes, and sexuality through group therapy. Even though, some Juvenile sex offenders are status-offenders under which they are controlled by the child protection system from their place of jurisdiction, which it is a serious family dysfunction that do not integrated with other child protection agencies based on the aspects of sexual abuses and sexual behaviors. As a result, it is hoped that Juvenile sex offenders and their families are able to obtain a quality of services that would transform them from traditional rehabilitative services into coercive services.

The issue of juvenile sexual offenders is of significant interest to researchers, yet a review of the available literature on the general subject demonstrates a number of notable shortcomings. Overall, there is a surprising dearth of studies in the field; the majority of research into the etiology, psychology, and sociology of sexual offenders is largely limited to studies of adult offenders. The literature that does exist examining the general subject of juvenile sex offenders is often contradictory, and in many cases it fails to adequately distinguish between juvenile peer offenders (i.e.- rapists) and juvenile child offenders (i.e.- child molesters). Further complicating this issue is the relative lack of specificity of treatment for juveniles in terms of drawing distinctions between subgroups (peer offenders; child offenders; mixed offenders) and inadequate research into making determinations about what diversion and treatment programs are most appropriate for juvenile sex offenders in general, and for each subgroup in particular. This paper examines a number of studies in the field of juvenile sex offenders with an eye towards determining which treatment approaches show the most benefit and the most promise for treating each subgroup. The bulk of the available evidence shows that early diversion and treatment is the most significant determinant of positive outcomes for juvenile sex offenders, as measured by recidivism rates. The current body of literature on the subject demonstrates that the criminal justice system is in many cases poorly equipped to properly address the issue of juvenile sex offenders; as such, a wide disparity exists both among the different punishments, treatments and diversion to which offenders are subject and among their effectiveness and suitability for the offenses and offenders to which they are applied.

Overview

Much of the research into the subject of adult sex offenders demonstrates that a large number of them first committed sexual-related offenses when they were under the age of 18; the median age at which adult male sex offenders first demonstrate deviant sexual behavior is between 13 and 15, and the median age at which adult male sex offenders commit their first rape or act of child molestation is age 16 (Campbell and Lerew, 2002). The majority of sexual crimes are committed by males, and a large number of sexual crimes are committed by adolescent males. 20% of rapes and 30-50% of acts of child molestation are committed by adolescent males (Campbell and Lerew). These statistics make it clear that the issue of juvenile sex offenders is a significant area of concern on a number of levels. First is the significance of the offenses committed by juvenile offenders and the attendant harm and damage done to the victims of these offenses. Second, and perhaps of even greater concern in the context of developing treatment approaches and the appropriate applicability of legal and criminal punishments, the commission of sexual-related offenses in childhood and adolescence is a significant predictor and determinant of future offenses in adulthood.

Psychology of Juvenile Sexual Offenders

A notable area of research and study in the subject of juvenile sexual offenders is the development of psychological frameworks that seek to understand, predict, and hopefully prevent the commission of sexual-related crimes and other offenses by juveniles. A number of studies have attempted to determine what, if any, psychological characteristics are shared by juvenile sex offenders in general, as well as examining whether the primary subgroups (peer offenders; child offenders; mixed offenders) demonstrated notable psychological similarities or discrepancies between and among each other.

One such study used Kohlberg’s model of moral judgment as a framework for an examination of male juvenile sex offenders, with a control group of similarly-aged non-offenders for purposes of comparison. Briefly, Kohlberg’s model offers six stages of moral development, roughly applicable to developmental stages ranging from childhood to adulthood. In the first stage, issues of morality, or decisions about right and wrong, are viewed in the context of obedience and punishment. This is the stage at which young children make behavioral decisions based on rules and guidelines, and the potential consequences they will face by not adhering to the rules. The next stage is instrumental orientation, wherein children make decisions based largely on self-interest, by weighing the personal negative and positive consequences of any particular action. Interpersonal orientation follows; this stage involves the seeking of approval of peers, and is largely seen in early adolescence. Social system orientation expands on interpersonal orientation, as individuals learn to navigate more complex social structures while still largely seeking approval within these structures. By adulthood, posits Kohlberg, individuals learn to understand the nature of the social contract, and the necessity of behaving according to the structures of this contract for reasons that extend beyond personal gain or acceptance. The highest stage of Kohlberg’s framework is the development and understanding of universal ethical principles, and of making moral decisions based on a broadly-applicable framework of what is right and wrong.

In applying Kohlberg’s moral stages to the examination of juvenile sex offenders, Van Vugt et al (2008) determined that such offenders did demonstrate results that differed from the median scores of those in the control group. This study used the Moral Orientation Measure (MOM) and the Sociomoral Reflection Measure (SRM) to assess the moral stages of juvenile sex offenders in this study. While the subjects displayed a range of responses, the researchers were able to reach some general conclusions based on their findings. Juvenile sex offenders were not devoid of empathy or of the abilioty to understand right and wrong in every context, but questions and discussions pertaining to their victims were less likely to elicit empathetic responses than were inquiries pertaining to other subjects. As an example, the researchers describe how the majority of juvenile sex offenders were able to recognize that victims of car accidents had suffered harm, and were able to empathize with those victims by describing feeling “sorry” or “sad” for them. In general, however, such responses were less prevalent when subjects were asked about the possible harm done to their victims, or whether they felt badly for the offenses they had perpetrated against these victims.

Van Vugt et al also compared the findings drawn from the various subgroups (peer offenders; child offenders; mixed offenders) and found some notable disparities among the subgroups. The most significant disparity was seen between the peer offenders and child offenders, with the child offenders displaying markedly lower rates of cognitive empathy (the ability to recognize that an action has caused harm) for their victims than did the peer offenders. Van Vugt et al conclude that such findings demonstrate noteworthy differences in psychological makeup between peer offenders and child offenders, and further posit that such disparities between juvenile offender subgroups will likely have implications for these offenders as they reach adulthood.

Such studies demonstrate the need for understanding the differences, as well as the similarities, between different subgroups of juvenile sex offenders. There are notable differences between the two primary subgroups (peer offenders and child offenders) in terms of psychological backgrounds; such differences are manifested in a number of ways that have implications both for psychological research and for the development and application of criminal-justice-based responses to the crimes committed by juvenile sex offenders. Kemper and Kistner (2010) examine these subgroup classifications with the aim of determining what some of the most significant differences are between and among them.

Among the most common forms of classification of juvenile sex offenders is that of the age of victims. Further subtypes in this form of classification examine the age discrepancy between offender and victim. These sorts of classifications are often used for the purposes of comparing the backgrounds and offenses of juvenile sex offender subtypes, but Kemper and Kistner warn that such potential classifications must be examined closely before reaching any conclusions about assigning offenders to different subtypes. A young victim, for example, may seem at first glance to be a determinant that an offender is of the child offender subtype; if the age discrepancy is small enough, however, Kemper and Kistner assert that it may be more appropriate to place an offender in the peer offender subgroup. By contrast, a case of a victim of the same young age who is victimized by an older adolescent may be a determinant that the offender belongs on the child offender subgroup.

Research in this area shows that a number of other factors may be important to consider, while also noting that the young age of offenders –and their concomitantly brief offender histories- may make it difficult to accurately or appropriately classify them. Some other potentially relevant factors to consider when classifying young offenders are what genders the offenders generally target, and what other behavioral issues are present in these young offenders. Child offenders, for example, tend to target one gender over another, though their choice of gender is roughly divided equally among male or female victims. An additional subtype of the child offender subgroup targets both male and female victims, though the expression of this subtype is less common than the subtype that tends to target one gender over another.

Juvenile offenders that fit the peer offender subgroup are predominantly male, with the majority of these male offenders targeting female victims. Research has shown that both primary subgroups, juvenile offenders tend to target victims that they know personally or with whom they have some sort of prior relationship (Kemper and Kistner). This is most common among peer offenders, the majority of which select victims with whom they have had some ongoing social interaction; this is understandably less of a factor among child offenders who tend to target victims based on opportunity and access as opposed to social interaction. Peer offenders have higher rates of concomitant behavioral issues than do child offenders; such behavioral issues can include acts of violence, the commission of violent and non-violent crimes, and socially-disruptive behavior in school or in other social settings.

Dealing with Juvenile Sex Offenders: Treatment, Diversion, and the Criminal Justice System

The matter of dealing with juvenile sex offenders is a complicated one, and must account for and include a range of factors. For juveniles who have expressed or demonstrated deviant sexual behavior or thoughts, the primary consideration is the prevention of possible future problems through psychological and behavioral interventions. For juveniles who have committed crimes or otherwise victimized others, the possibility of criminal proceedings becomes a factor. In most instances, dealing with juvenile sex offenders requires a combination of approaches that can include psychological treatment and therapy, diversion programs, and various criminal-justice-based responses.

From a psychological standpoint the treatment of sex offenders, both juveniles and adults, is challenging. Oates (2007) conducted a study that inquired of adult sex offenders whose first offenses occurred when they were juveniles about what they believed were effective psychological techniques. Among the most common responses was the importance of adult involvement in the lives of children; in short, parents must discuss issues pertaining to sexuality with their children in healthy and responsible ways, and look for indications of potential sexually deviant thoughts or behavior at a young age. The presence of such indications calls for an immediate and thorough response; most offenders in this study emphasize the importance of early intervention. It is also necessary to recognize potential causal factors of sexually deviant thoughts or behavior; of these, the most widely-recognized predictor of child offenders is the prior sexual victimization of the offender. For children who have been sexually victimized it is important to provide intervention and treatment as swiftly as possible.

In the context of the criminal justice system, psychological factors and issue are often of concern in juvenile courts, but the response to juvenile sex offenders often varies widely, and can be determined by a range of often-contradictory factors. Juvenile sex offenders on the lower end of the socioeconomic scale are more likely to receive punitive responses to their offenses, ranging from probation to various levels of incarceration. Some offenders are transferred from the juvenile courts to the adult criminal justice system, with factors such as the severity of the offense(s) and the offender’s prior criminal history coming into play in making such determinations. For first-time offenders or for those with limited criminal histories, diversion programs are often the first choice of the juvenile courts.

Contemporary approaches to diversion differ significantly from their historical antecedents. Beginning in the middle of the 20th century, the decision to develop “diversionary” programs for juveniles charged with a range of offenses was made largely to “relax an overburdened juvenile court system” and to “limit the depth to which juveniles penetrated the criminal justice system” (Campbell and Lerew). In short, diversion programs were aimed primarily at offenders who had not been adjudicated, and were intended to allow first-time offenders or those with minimal criminal histories avoid convictions and criminal records. In the last several decades, the concept of “diversion” in the context of the juvenile court system has evolved dramatically, with both non-adjudicated and adjudicated offenders being offered a range of alternatives and options to incarceration. Where diversion used to be an alternative to conviction for juvenile offenders, it is now an alternative to more severe forms of punishment to offenders who have and have not been convicted of crimes.

Not surprisingly, studies that have examined the success rates of diversion programs have demonstrated wildly divergent outcomes, with a range of factors determining which diversions are more likely to be successful as measured in future rates of recidivism. The two most notable determinants of successful diversionary outcomes are the subgroup in which the offender is classified and the developmental stage at which diversion and intervention are offered. Peer offenders are, in general, more likely than child offenders to show positive outcomes in terms of demonstrating lower rates of recidivism over the course of several different time frames (such as 1 year; 5 years, 10 years). Juvenile offenders who are offered diversion and intervention at early ages are more likely to show positive outcomes than are juveniles whose first interventions or diversions come in later adolescence.

Diversionary programs can take a number of forms; most involve some sort of in-patient approach to psychological treatment, such as can be found in group treatment centers. Critics of diversionary programs claim that the lack of severity of the response to a juvenile sex offender may undermine the seriousness of the issue; as such, the development of diversionary programs should, critics claim, strike a balance between treatment and incarceration to make clear the seriousness nature of sexual offenses. A 2002 study of 93 juvenile sex offenders enrolled in diversionary program in Colorado from 1998-1999 showed that 83% of them had not committed any offenses within the two years following the end of the program, with 6% committing non-sexual offenses and 11% committing sexual-related offenses (Campbell and Lerew). While the commission of any such offenses is disappointing, Hendriks and Bijleveld (2010) assert that this rate of recidivism is notably lower than that of offenders who are incarcerated in juvenile detention centers for similar lengths of time.

Conclusion

The existing literature on the subject of juvenile sex offenders does offer some notable findings; of these, the most significant is that effective diversion and intervention programs can and do work when offered early enough. What is lacking in much of the research and discourse related to juvenile sex offenders, however, is a more thorough examination of the subgroups of such offenders, and of the determinant factors that underpin the development of sexual deviance among these subgroups. Further research into the determinant factors related to the primary subgroups may help to better illuminate the ways in which each of them can be treated, and how the criminal justice system can best intervene in and respond to the actions of juvenile sex offenders.

References

Campbell, J. S., & Lerew, C. (2002). Juvenile Sex Offenders in Diversion. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment14(1), 1-17.

Hendricks, J., & Bijleveld, C. (2008). Recidivism among juvenile sex offenders after residential treatment. Journal of Sexual Aggression14(1), 19-32.

Kemper, T. S. (2010). An evaluation of classification criteria for juvenile sex offenders. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment22(2), 172-190.

Oates, K. (2007). Juvenile sex offenders. Child Abuse & Neglect31(7), 681-682.

Van Vugt, E. et al (2008). Moral development of solo juvenile sex offenders. Journal of Sexual Aggression14(2), 99-109.