Juvenile Sex Offenses

AuthorStephanie Tabashneck
Juvenile Sex Offenses
Stephanie Tabashneck
We can no longer dismiss sex-related activity by youth as “kids being kids,” in
large part because so much conduct, including conduct facilitated by social
media, has been criminalized. This chapter by Dr. Stephanie Tabashneck
examines how juveniles charged with sex offenses are different from their
adult counterparts. As was presented in the earlier chapter by Dr. Antoinette
Kavanaugh on juveniles, children and adolescents have higher incidences
of mental disabilities than do adults in the criminal justice system and they
are more likely to have experienced abuse and witnessed trauma. Over
one-quarter of all sex offenders are under the age of eighteen. And a sig-
nificant portion of those offenses are committed by juveniles against other
minors. As criminal defense lawyers, we should know that relative to adults,
kids charged with sex offenses are more amenable to treatment and have
lower rates of recidivism.
• • •
Youth are responsible for a significant portion of sex crimes in the United
States. This chapter will explore the phenomenon of juvenile sexual miscon-
duct and unique considerations for youth with psychological and neurode-
velopmental impairments, including autism spectrum disorder, intellectual
impairment, posttraumatic stress disorder, conduct disorder, and paraphilic
disorders. The chapter will end with a discussion of risk assessment and
recommendations for working with forensic expert evaluators.
Juvenile sex offenders come to the attention of law enforcement for
a wide variety of crimes, including sexual assault, sharing pornography
144 Representing People with Mental Disabilities
with other minors, “sexting,” rape, and inappropriate sexual conduct with
children. The true frequency of juvenile sexual misconduct is difficult
to capture as over two-thirds of sex crimes are unreported. This prob-
lem is exacerbated in juvenile sex crimes for several reasons. Some illegal
juvenile sexual conduct, when disclosed, is kept private and stays within
the family. It is also common for the victims of juvenile sex crimes to be
too young to articulate that they have been abused. Further, when juve-
nile sexual misconduct is reported to law enforcement, it may not lead
to arrest. But even taking into consideration these caveats, it is estimated
that over one-quarter of all sex offenders are under the age of eighteen.
Each year, children and adolescents are arrested for over 2,000 forcible
rapes and approximately 8,300 other sex offenses. More than one-third
of sex offenses committed against minors are perpetrated by a youth as
well as nearly half of child molestations. Sexual homicides perpetrated by
juveniles make up 12 percent of all sexual homicide arrests. Almost half of
adult sex offenders report they first sexually offended in adolescence.
There is considerable variability in juvenile sexual misconduct including
the extent of premeditation, the use of weapons during assault, the age of
the victim, and the setting of the assault. However, youth who commit sex
crimes share some common characteristics. Consistently, juveniles offend
against victims they know, and over 90 percent of victims are family mem-
bers or acquaintances. Over 90 percent of youth convicted of sex crimes are
male. On measures of intelligence, as a whole, they score 8 to 20 IQ points
below the general population average of 100. Juveniles who sexually offend
tend to experience elevated rates of affective dysregulation, anxiety, and low
self-esteem as well as higher rates of physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse,
trauma, and family instability, including parental alcoholism, parental men-
tal illness, and parental criminal history. These offenders also are likely to
have poor social skills, academic difficulties, and school misconduct.
Myths about Juveniles Who Sexually Offend
Children and adolescents arrested for sex crimes represent one of the
most poorly understood delinquency groups. Research suggests that when
members of the public are asked to envision juvenile sex offenders, they
erroneously conjure up images of hardened “superpredators” who employ
weapons and brutal violence. In a public opinion survey conducted by
the Center for Sex Offender Management in 2010, 66 percent of 1,005

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