The Adolescent Sex Offender: an Overview

Publication year1987
CitationVol. 16 No. 10 Pg. 1844
16 Colo.Law. 1844
Colorado Lawyer

1987, October, Pg. 1844. The Adolescent Sex Offender: An Overview


Vol. 16, No. 10, Pg. 1844

The Adolescent Sex Offender: An Overview

by Jeffrey L. Metzner, M.D

The molestation of children is a common sexual crime that affects one in four females in the United States.(fn1) Recent studies indicate that boys represent at least 25 percent of the reported victims of sexual abuse.(fn2) Over 50 percent of boy victims and at least 15 percent of girl victims are molested by teenagers.(fn3) In one study, 32 out of 97 sexually abused children were molested by youths under age 18 (the average age was 14).(fn4) This article discusses the adolescent sex offender, and offers a brief summary of the treatment that is available to control this type of behavior.

Statistics and Characteristics

Citing data from the 1979 National Crime Survey, one study reported that adolescent males between the ages of 13 and 18 committed 21 percent of the forcible rapes in the United States. This is equivalent to 200 forcible rapes per 100,000 adolescent males.(fn5) Another researcher, who used a broadened definition of sexual assault to include all coerced sexual behavior involving contact with sexual parts of the body, estimated the number of sexual perpetrators per 100,000 adolescent males to range from 5,000 to 16,000.(fn6)

Studies have demonstrated that it is common for adult sex offenders to report that the onset of their deviant sexual arousal occurred prior to age 18.(fn7) Others have refuted earlier findings which tended to minimize the deviant sexual behavior of male adolescents as reflecting either experimentation or innocent sexual activities.(fn8) However, findings that the mean onset of non-deviant genital sexual behavior predated the onset of deviant sexual behavior in 22 adolescent males supports the assessment that deviant sexual behaviors are not the "exploration" of the inexperienced.(fn9)

Another study has demonstrated that the number of victims of sexual offenses dramatically increases as the offender reaches adulthood. Review of the records of 20 paraphiliacs (sexual deviants) seen prior to age 18 revealed that they had averaged 7.7 attempted or completed sexual crimes per offender against an average of 6.75 victims. A second group of 240 offenders who were seen later in adult life but began their deviant sexual arousal prior to age 18 had averaged 581 attempted or completed deviant sexual acts per offender. This resulted in an average of 380 victims per offender, which was more than 55 times the number of victims per offender as compared to the adolescent offenders.(fn10)

Not surprisingly, most providers of sex offender intervention advocate early treatment of adolescent sex offenders. One commentator, using an operant conditioning approach, states that

many adolescents start to use these [deviant sexual] fantasies, masturbate, and have orgasm. That is the key for them developing a persistent, deviant arousal. That is a very critical issue. When you see these kids by the time they have committed a few crimes, they have started to use and associate those deviant fantasies with orgasm. That has to be disrupted early. They commit these crimes because that is where their sexual interests are moving them. This behavior is incorporated into their sexual fantasies and into their sexual lives. By the time we see some adult child molesters, they may be able to have intercourse with an adult female as long as they fantasize about young children. In other words, it has become chronic. When the problem becomes chronic, it takes on a life in and of itself, because now a few activities are used hundreds and thousands of times as they live those highly erotic experiences. When there is a pairing or association between those fantasies and orgasm, that welding together makes the problem chronic and much more difficult to deal with. Trying to unglue that when they are 30 or 40 years old is a major undertaking. It can be done, but if you had your 'druthers' you wouldn't. It would be better to approach them when they are kids.(fn11)

In one study of 67 male adolescent sex offenders between the ages of 13 and 19 (mean age 15.47), the following characteristics were compiled: 97 percent had never been psychiatrically hospitalized; 71.6 percent had never been arrested for non-sexual crimes; and 79 percent had been arrested for one prior sexual crime. Forty-one (63 percent) were categorized as pedophiles (24 female-directed pedophiles and 17 male-directed pedophiles). The victims were generally unrelated to the offender and younger than age 8.

Of the 41 pedophiles, it was discovered that they had completed a total of 63 deviant sexual acts against a total of 53 victims. Seventeen adolescents (25 percent) had committed 39 rapes against 13 victims. Two adolescents had engaged in consensual incest with females aged 9 through 12.(fn12)...

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