Section 2: Overview
2 Hours


Unfortunately, this trend continued, and developmental considerations were not commonly taken into account as management strategies for sexually abusive youth were developed. And in some ways, the proverbial pendulum swung even further. Whereas sexual behavior problems of adolescents had once been ignored, they had now become the focus of intense scrutiny.

In fact, during the 1990s, the field appeared to be over–correcting—and some experts argued that it went too far in the other direction.10

Use SlideUse Slide #9: The Field Over-Corrects

For example, in some instances, non–abusive sexual behaviors exhibited by children and adolescents were being mislabeled as sex crimes. Very young children—sometimes even preadolescents as young as 8 or 9 years old—were being labeled as sex offenders, sexual predators, and pedophiles.

In addition, assessment instruments and treatment interventions intended for adults were being used with juveniles. Similarly, supervision strategies and tools, like polygraph testing and electronic monitoring, and specialized conditions such as prohibited contact with minors, were now being applied to juvenile sex offenders in the same manner in which they had been used with adult sex offenders.

And legislation that was initially geared toward managing adult sex offenders, including registration, community notification, and civil commitment, began to be considered and enacted for youth who committed sex offenses in the mid–to late–1990s.11

The markedly changing way in which professionals and systems responded to juvenile sex offenders may have been—at least in part—a function of the growing public outcry related to several high profile sex offense cases committed by adult sex offenders.

How many of you remember seeing some of those headlines years ago, or continue to see headlines in similar cases even now?


Yes, those kinds of stories tend to stick in our minds because they were so troubling. Indeed, the very tragic outcomes in these highly publicized cases were seen by some as convincing evidence that all adult sex offenders are extremely dangerous and recidivate at staggering rates. In turn, many presumed that all juvenile sex offenders are very dangerous and reoffend at very high rates as well, and that these youth inevitably become the adult sex offenders of society.

Another contributing factor may have been the widespread reaction to the increased rates of violent juvenile crime that occurred in the late 1980s and early 1990s—in what has been called a “juvenile crime wave.” During that time, most or all of the states in the country passed sweeping juvenile crime reforms in an attempt to “get tough” on juveniles and to treat them more like adults.12 When we get to the Treatment section of this training, we’ll talk more about that trend and its implications on juvenile sex offender management.

Regardless of the reasons that drove this dramatic shift in how systems responded to juvenile sex offenders, the movement reflected the belief that these youth were simply younger, smaller versions of adult sex offenders. And again, many policies and practices were designed around this premise. As you are probably aware, at around the turn of the century, these adult–like approaches became increasingly controversial in the field.13

More recently, additional research pertaining to juvenile sex offenders has been conducted, and we have gained a greater understanding of some of the factors that seem to be associated with juvenile sex offending behaviors. In addition, although there are some similarities, we have developed a greater appreciation for the important differences between these youth and adult offenders.

So at this point in time, we have a more informed rationale for putting in place developmentally sensitive approaches to managing juveniles who commit sex offenses.

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