Families, Mental Health, and Delinquency: Testing Sexual Crime Typologies of Youth Who Sexually Harm

AuthorAdam Brown,Erin Gardner
Date01 July 2022
Published date01 July 2022
Subject MatterArticles
Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice
2022, Vol. 20(3) 250275
© The Author(s) 2022
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/15412040211073060
Families, Mental Health, and
Delinquency: Testing Sexual
Crime Typologies of Youth
Who Sexually Harm
Adam Brown
and Erin Gardner
Researchers have made great strides in identifying risk factors associated with the commission of
sexual harm by youth. However, many of the risk factors associated with youth who sexually harm
(YSH) are also associated with nonsexual delinquency, making it hard to create typologies of YSH
to target prevention and treatment. To eliminate an overlap with nonsexually offending general
delinquents, Brown (2019) used latent class analysis to identify four unique classes of youth based
only on their sexual crime characteristics. A research implication of Brownsf‌indings was to
explore the relationship of the classes to characteristics associated with sexual crime by youth to
identify targeted treatment implications and opportunities to prevent sexual crime. In this study,
the authors used chi-square analyses and logistic regression to test the relationships of mental
health, family factors, concurrent delinquency with the classes identif‌ied in Browns (2019) study
using the same sample (N= 573) used by Brown. Findings highlight the potential differing etiology
and treatment needs of YSH according to their offense characteristics. Treatment implications
and directions for future research are offered.
families and delinquency, sexual abuse, typologies, youth sexual harm
The commission of sexual harm can have long term detrimental consequences for those vic-
timized, the community, and those who have sexually harmed. Researchers and treatment
providers have long known that etiological investigations of youth who sexually harm (YSH) are
challenged by the fact that they are a heterogeneous group with many overlapping factors that can
Silberman School of Social Work, Hunter College, City University of New York, USA
School of Social Welfare, State University of New York at Albany, USA
Corresponding Author:
Adam Brown, Silberman School of Social Work, Hunter College, City University of New York, 2180 3rd Avenue, New
York, NY 10035, USA.
Email: adam.brown@hunter.cuny.edu
potentially contribute to sexually harmful behavior (Brown et al., 2021;Fox & DeLisi, 2017;
McCuish et al., 2015). Specif‌ically, these youth have been found to encompass a variety of unique
personality traits, criminal behaviors, demographic traits, psychopathologies, and childhood
traumas (Brown et al., 2021;McCuish et al., 2015,2017).
Historically, individual risk factors have been used to best inform youth sexual offender
policies and practices. These factors often include hopelessness regarding sexual future (Brown &
Grady, 2019), poor awareness of healthy sexual relationships, and antisocial values and attitudes
(Hunter et al., 2003;Imbach et al., 2013;van Wijk et al., 2005). More recently, it has been
contended that, in addition to assessing individual factors, one must also consider the individuals
familial, peer, and other social contexts (Alexander et al., 2021). Families of YSH have been found
to face multiple concurrent problems (Yoder & Brown, 2015). They are often made up of single-
parent structures that are female-headed (Ryan & Otonichar, 2016), characterized as having high
rates of neglect, and inadequate monitoring of children (Knight & Sims-Knight, 2004;Newman
et al., 2015;Widom & Massey, 2015). Additionally, families often show high levels of substance
abuse (Barbaree & Marshall, 2006;Murphy et al., 2016), adult criminality (Baker et al., 2003;
Felizzi, 2015;McCuish et al., 2015) and a lack of resources to cope with traumatic experiences
such as abuse and neglect (Bereiter & Mullen, 2012;Vizard et al., 2007). However, both in-
dividual and environmental factors have been found to occur concurrently, often leading to
diff‌iculties in designing a treatment approach that works for all YSH.
Typologies for Youth That Sexually Harm
Latent class analysis (LCA) is considered a person-centered and holistic approach to data analysis
for creating typologies. It allows for the identif‌ication of unmeasured class memberships using
observed variables (Vermunt & Magidson, 2004). Todate, few researchers have used this person-
centered approach to identify distinct categories that can be used to better understand YSH. Fox
and DeLisi (2017) showed four unique subtypes: non-disordered males, impulsive and un-
empathetic, early onset and chronic, and male victim offenders. Brown (2019) also found four
classes with some overlap to the Fox and DeLisi study: non-violent acts with child victims, female
peer victims only, male child focus, and an early starter with multiple victims. More recently,
Alexander and colleagues (2021) examined various sub-categories of poly-victimization among
YSH. They found a difference between trauma symptomology among youth with low poly-
victimization versus high poly-victimization.
These investigations have made potentially important contributions to the study of YSH
etiology by exploring new ways to classify YSH. Although the studies also leave us to
question where to go from here as it pertains to assessment and treatment. In other word s,h ow
might these classes relate to other factors known to be related to the commission of sexual
harm? Furthermore, given that ones motivation to sexually harm may differ according to
sexual crime characteristics (Cale et al., 2016), it might be important to understand how
various contexts and sexual crime characteristics may differentially motivate YSH according
to other risk indicators.
Only one LCA of YSH to-date has identif‌ied classes of youth solely based upon immutable,
static, sexual crime characteristics (Brown, 2019). However, according to the Association for the
Treatment of Sexual Abusers practice guidelines for the treatment of adolescents, treatment should
focus on dynamic risk factors according to the context of the youthslives. Therefore, to determine
the utility of a typology based upon sexual crime characteristics for treatment, it would be
important to see how the classes predict dynamic risk factors associated with the commission of
sexual harm.
Brown and Gardner 251

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