The term “sex offender” carries a strong, negative connotation and is a label that is nearly impossible to erase once it is placed on an individual. Certainly we can all agree there are those in our society who deserve this label because of their atrocious offenses and the label serves as a means of protecting others from their behaviors. We can also agree that preventing sexual abuse needs to be viewed with the highest degree of importance. That being said, unfortunately, there are children and teens given this label when it is not accurate or warranted. In these cases, they actually become victimized by the very system that is intended to protect them.
In approaching this all important topic, it is important to know the facts about children and teens who act out in illegal sexual ways before placing a label that has life-long consequences.
The truth is that there is now way to pinpoint or categorize characteristics of children and teens who commit sex offenses as those who sexually offend are so diverse. Some are otherwise well-functioning youth with limited behavioral or psychological problems. Some are youth with multiple non-sexual behavior problems or prior non-sexual juvenile offenses. Some are youth with major psychiatric disorders. Some come from well-functioning families. Some from highly chaotic or abusive backgrounds. Contrary to the belief of many, most teen sex offenders have not been victims of childhood sexual abuse.
Juvenile sex offenders are significantly different from adult sex offenders in several ways:
- Teen sex offenders are considered to be more responsive to treatment than adult sex offenders and do not appear to continue re-offending into adulthood, especially when provided with appropriate treatment.
- Adolescent sex offenders have fewer numbers of victims than adult offenders and, on average, engage in less serious and aggressive behaviors.
- Most youth do not have deviant sexual arousal and/or deviant sexual fantasies that many adult sex offenders have.
- Most adolescents are not sexual predators nor do they meet the accepted criteria for pedophilia.
- Few teens appear to have the same long-term tendencies to commit sexual offenses as some adult offenders.
- Across a number of treatment research studies, the overall sexual recidivism rate for juvenile sex offenders who receive treatment is low in most US settings as compared to adults. Adolescents who offend against young children tend to have slightly lower sexual recidivism rates than adolescents who sexually offend against other teens.
Assuring that children and teens that engage in illegal sexual behaviors receive treatment is paramount. The research suggests that those who participate in treatment typically do not re-offend. Effective treatment for youth is critical in preventing sexual abuse.
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