Can teens who sexually offend rehabilitate?

The answer is a resounding Yes! At Star Guides Wilderness, we witness this happen on a daily basis. We have a strong believe that regardless of past sexual behavior problems, that all youth can learn to achieve healthy sexuality. Unfortunately, many in our society are not aware of this fact and erroneously lump both adult and juvenile sexual offenders into the same category of being life-long pedophiles incapable of change.

Teens that are charged with sexual offenses are different from adult sex offenders. While sexually inappropriate behavior by teens is wrong, the way we treat a teen sexual offender requires a different approach than an adult offender for a variety of reasons.

Unlike adults, adolescents are in a stage of rapid changing, developing and learning. Most are generally receptive to rehabilitation and treatment. Teens are dependent on adults to guide them in understanding the complexities of the world and appropriate sexual and social behaviors. Thus, a treatment approach needs to be take into consideration these factors.

Youth Sexual Offending Behavior Is Different from Adult Sex Offending Behavior

The scientific literature on this issue distinguishes the behavior of juveniles from adults.

  1. Youth sex offenders engage in fewer abusive behaviors over shorter periods of time and have less aggressive sexual behavior. (National Center on Sexual Behavior of Youth (NCSBY)
  2. Juveniles are not fixed in their sexual offending behavior. Juvenile offenders who act out sexually do not tend to eroticize aggression, nor are they aroused by child sex stimuli. Mental healthprofessionals regard this juvenile behavior as much less dangerous. (NCSBY)
  3. More than nine out of ten times the arrest of a juvenile for a sex offense is a one-time event, even though the juvenile may be apprehended for non-sex offenses typical of other juvenile delinquents.(Zimring, p. 66)
  4. Only 8% of the incidents leading to juvenile arrests for sexual offenses would be eligible as evidence of a pedophilia disorder under American Psychiatric Association diagnostic criteria for pedophilia (abusive sexual uses of children) (Zimring; pg. 65)

Youth Sex Offenders Have a Low Recidivism Rate

  1. Youth who commit sex offenses are highly unlikely to commit another sexual offense (OJJDP, December 2001; 30-31).
  2. The recidivism rate among juvenile sex offenders is only 5-14% versus 8-58% for other delinquent behavior (NCSBY)
  3. Multiple studies have demonstrated extremely low rates for sexual reoffending for juveniles convicted of sex offenses.

o A 2000 study by the Texas Youth Commission of 72 young offenders who were released from state correctional facilities for sexual offenses (their incarceration suggests that judges considered these youth as posing a greater risk) found a re-arrest rate of 4.2% for a sexual offense. (Zimring, Appendix C)

o A 1996 study found similarly low sex offense recidivism rates in Baltimore (3.3-4.2%), San Francisco (5.5%) and Lucas County, Ohio (3.2%). (Zimring, Appendix C)

o A 2000 study of 96 juvenile sexual offenders in Philadelphia showed a 3% sexual re-offense rate. (Zimring, Appendix C)


National Center on Sexual Behavior of Youth (NCSBY), a training and technical assistance center developed by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) and the Center on Child Abuse and Neglect at University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center,

NCSBY, Center for Sex Offender Management (CSOM) and U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, (2001). Juveniles Who Have Sexually Offended; A Review of the Professional Literature Report; available at

U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, (2001). Juveniles Who Have Sexually Offended; A Review of The Professional Literature Report; available at