Section 2: Overview
2 Hours


Part II: Historical Responses

As you’ve seen, the available data certainly indicate that juvenile sex offending is a problem in our communities. But you might be surprised to hear that only fairly recently has it been the focus of much attention. In fact, when we look at historical trends and responses to juvenile sex offenders, it is very interesting to see the changes that have occurred over time.

Although adult–perpetrated sex offenses have been a longstanding concern—with some professionals even writing about sexual deviance in the late 1800s—similar behaviors engaged in by adolescents did not draw nearly as much concern until nearly a full century later.

Why do you think this was the case?


Yes, those are some good hypotheses. It’s hard to know the exact reasons. It may be that misperceptions, societal views, and professional biases are some of the issues that contribute to the lack of attention to juvenile-perpetrated sex offenses.

For example, in some circumstances—and as recently as the 1960s and early 1970s—adolescents’ sexual behavior problems were overlooked or minimized because of a belief that these acts were solely experimental or born out of curiosity, or that these behaviors were simply a common “phase” out of which youth would grow. Others may have minimized the seriousness of these types of behaviors and overlooked the potential harm that could be caused simply because of the youths’ relatively young ages.

However, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the tides began to turn. Why do you think this change occurred?


Use SlideUse Slide #7: Catalysts Fueling Increased Awareness

Well, one reason was related to victimization data. When researchers attempted to explore the incidence and prevalence of sexual victimization through anonymous surveys, a significant number of respondents indicated that a person younger than 18 years of age was responsible for abusing them.7

At around the same time, professionals studying and treating adult sex offenders were asked when they first began to engage in sexually abusive behaviors. It turned out that a considerable proportion of these adult offenders reported that they began perpetrating during their adolescent years.8 So an assumption was made that the onset of much sex offending occurs during adolescence.

Although there are probably some other reasons, these two sets of findings seemed to play a large role in the increased recognition of the problem of juvenile-perpetrated sex offenses. And with that increased recognition came an increase in research and professional literature on these youth.

Use SlideUse Slide #8: Initial Growth in Literature

As you can see, the number of professional publications related to juvenile sex offenders increased dramatically—from less than a dozen articles in the 1970s and early 1980s to nearly six times that amount only a decade later.9

Obviously, then, not much was known about these youth when the focus first began to shift toward them. Unlike the large body of research that had accumulated within the adult sex offender field and that could be used to guide interventions for adults, there was very limited empirical information about juvenile sex offenders upon which to base policies and practices.

As a result, much of how systems responded to juvenile sex offenders during the 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s was based primarily on common beliefs about—and strategies developed for—adult sex offenders. It was assumed that these youth were essentially the same as their adult counterparts, and that what made sense for adult sex offender management would make sense for juvenile sex offender management.

This is quite interesting, because it is commonly accepted that adolescents are fundamentally different from adults from a developmental perspective!

But, at the time, given the limited research about these youth, these unquestioned assumptions about the parallels between adult and juvenile sex offenders were somewhat understandable.

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