The juvenile sex offender and the juvenile justice system.

Author:Martin, Earl F.

    1. Describing the Scope of the Activity

    2. Demonstrating the Scope of the Problem III. THE BEHAVIORAL SCIENCE PERSPECTIVE

    3. Theories of Etiology

    4. Behavioral Science Definitions of Juvenile Sex Offenses

    5. Profiles of Juvenile Sex Offenders

      1. Characteristics and Experiences

      2. Offending Patterns

    6. Treatment Approaches and Issues

      1. Treatment Options

      1. Biological

      2. Cognitive-Behavioral/Social Learning

      3. Relapse Prevention (RP)

      2. Goals of Treatment

      3. Evaluations of Treatment Effectiveness IV. THE LEGAL RESPONSE TO JUVENILE SEX OFFENDERS.

    7. The Case for Therapeutic Intervention

    8. Gaining Jurisdiction Over Juvenile Sex Offenders

      1. An All-Inclusive Approach.

      2. A Less Inclusive Approach.

      3. A Hybrid Approach

      4. Extensions of Coverage

    9. Transfer and Treatment Issues.

      1. Transfer

      2. Treatment V. CONCLUSION


    "In 1899, the Illinois legislature passed a law creating a new and separate court to resolve legal problems concerning dependent, neglected, and delinquent children."(1) The basic doctrine of this new court was that "children--even children who broke the criminal law--differed from adults," and therefore "required not only separate but different treatment before the law."(2) The state, acting through the juvenile court, would from that time forward treat children "not as responsible moral agents subject to the condemnation of the community[,] but as wards in need of care."(3)

    Following the lead of Illinois, over the next two decades almost all states created separate juvenile court systems(4) whose purpose remained two-fold for the majority of the twentieth century. First, the vast majority of delinquent children were removed from the ordinary criminal courts to forums specially adapted for dealing with them as wayward youths in need of treatment and rehabilitation, rather than as criminals.(5) Second, the courts rendered protection and treatment to other children in need, such as those who were neglected, abused, or who had shown themselves to be beyond the control of their guardians.(6)

    The rehabilitative juvenile court(7) remained the dominant institution in the juvenile justice system until approximately thirty years ago, when a shift began to occur in the approach to that category of children who had traditionally been labeled "delinquents."(8) Instead of regarding the juvenile court's purpose as solely, or even primarily, one of acting in the best interests of the youthful criminal offender, an attitudinal shift favoring punishment and protection of society began to take hold.(9) In response to growing pessimism regarding the effectiveness of the juvenile system not only to meet its obligation of rehabilitation, but also to provide a measure of security to the community, legislatures across the country moved to increase sanctions for juvenile offenders and to facilitate the transfer into the adult system of those youth considered unsuitable for the more lenient treatment afforded in juvenile court.(10)

    It is within this more punitive atmosphere that this Article will consider a specific category of juvenile delinquents whose behavior elevates them to the ranks of serious offenders; i.e., those who sexually assault and molest others. This discussion of these youths will be divided into three parts. Part II of this Article will take a "big picture" look at the problem of juvenile sexual misconduct and examine why these particular offenders are worthy of individualized attention. Part III will look at these delinquents from a behavioral science perspective by examining their misconduct descriptively, and by exploring their prospects for treatment. Specifically, attention will be focused on: theories regarding the etiology of their behavior; behavioral science definitions of their misconduct; juvenile sex offenders' characteristics, experiences, and offending patterns; and their unique needs for, and the success of, psychological treatment. Finally, Part IV of this Article will look at this country's juvenile justice system and examine its practices in light of the previous discussion. Particular attention will be paid to options for exercising jurisdiction over juvenile sex offenses, and to how these offenders are handled within the juvenile system once they are subjected to its jurisdiction. Although this Article is divided into distinct parts, there will be occasions for concurrent discussions of both behavioral science and legal issues. Furthermore, and because of the unique concerns that surround this misconduct, special attention will be paid to the category of juveniles who molest younger children.

    At the conclusion of the Article it is hoped that the reader will take away a few basic points. First, juvenile sex offending is a serious matter in and of itself, and the potential that it represents in the form of long-term offending into adulthood raises the stakes to an even higher level. Second, although the backgrounds of the offenders are diverse and the origins of their deviant behavior are unclear, there are some general observations that can be made which give rise to practical and moral imperatives in favor of trying to help these youth overcome their impulses. Third, given the alternatives of doing nothing other than locking these adolescents behind bars or returning them to the community with little hope that their behavior has been corrected, treatment of these individuals has to be a main priority of the juvenile justice system even though treatment methods employed to date have produced mixed results. Fourth, in deciding how broad its jurisdiction should be over these adolescents and their deviant behavior, and in what it does with them once it has them within its control, the juvenile justice system and its participants should be using what the behavioral sciences have discovered about juvenile sex offenders. It is only through this integrated approach that this troubling problem can be reduced, in both the short and long term, to manageable limits.


    1. Describing the Scope of the Activity

      Juvenile sex offenses are not defined as simply juveniles engaging in sexual activity that is illegal by statutory decree. Rather, it is the nature of the sexual activity and the circumstances in which it takes place that define the act as one deserving of legal intervention. Although a precise definition of this behavior is illusory,(11) it is useful to begin with a description of the kinds of sexual activity that create the greatest societal concern; specifically, deviant sexual interests that are chronic and compulsive, and thus categorized as paraphilias.(12)

      In general terms, paraphiliacs find unusual or bizarre imagery or acts necessary for sexual excitement, and their behavior tends to be involuntary and repetitive.(13) These preoccupations often begin as fantasy and masturbatory activities that then progress to sexual activity with or against third parties. Children who sexually abuse and molest others may engage in a range of paraphiliac activities from fondling, frottage, dry humping, vaginal or anal penetration, or any other type of aggressive sexualized behavior.(14) Penetration can be penile, oral, or involve the use of a foreign object.(15) Obviously, sexualized behavior that involves the use of violence creates its own unique concerns, since the interaction is carried out against the victim's will, without consent, or in an aggressive, exploitative, or threatening manner.(16)

    2. Demonstrating the Scope of the Problem

      "Prior to the early 1980's, the predominant view of the sexual offenses committed by adolescent males was that they constituted nuisance value only, reflecting a `boys-will-be-boys' attitude and a discounted estimate of the severity of harm produced.... Frequently, the sexually offensive behavior was not seen as assaultive; instead, these acts were seen as examples of experimentation and therefore as innocent."(17) improper sex acts were viewed as a byproduct of the normal aggressiveness of sexually maturing adolescents, or as a result of the marginal status of the adolescent male and the consequent restriction on his permitted sexual outlets.(18) As a result, many adolescent sex offenses went unrecognized by the criminal justice and mental health systems, with intervention occurring, if at all, when the offender became an adult.(19)

      Within the last fifteen years, the "boys-will-be-boys" attitude has been replaced by a recognition that juvenile sex offenders do indeed pose a risk to society worthy of serious concern. Based upon research into the nondeviant sex lives of juvenile offenders, it has been determined that their misconduct is not simply experimentation. Research has established that significant percentages of these juveniles have engaged in nondeviant sexual behavior prior to their aberrant offending, laying to rest the idea that all adolescent sexual misconduct is simply the result of curiosity or a desire to explore.(20) Outlets exist for these adolescents that do not include subjecting others to their deviant desires or misconduct.

      Recognizing that the inappropriate sexual contact some juveniles engage in is not simply the product of innocent curiosity, the question becomes what is the scope of harm being perpetrated on society by this misconduct? This query can be answered in part by looking to the potential future for some of these juveniles through the lens of an eight-year study (1979-1987) that attempted to arrive at an informed picture of the extent of adult sexual offending in society.(21) This study's subjects were 561 paraphiliacs who voluntarily submitted to assessment and/or treatment for their disorders at either the University of Tennessee Center for Health Sciences in Memphis or the New York State Psychiatric Institute in New York City.(22)

      Focusing solely on acts of child molestation and sexual assault, the total numbers of victims reported by the...

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