Integrating Theory and Research: The Development of a Research-Based Treatment Program for Juvenile Male Sex Offenders

Article excerpt

Sexual offenses committed by juveniles continue to be a serious problem (Righthand & Welch, 2001). According to the U.S. Department of Justice (see Weinrott, Riggan, & Frothingham, 1997), 20% of all rapes and approximately 25% of sexual abuse arrests involve perpetrators under the age of 21. In 2002, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention reported that juvenile offenders accounted for 12% of arrests for forcible rape (see Snyder, 2004). To provide further emphasis to these statistics, it should be noted that forcible rape constitutes only one type of sexual offense; no other forms of criminal sexual conduct are reflected by this statistic. Within the juvenile justice system, these youth may receive myriad sentencing options that include probation, short-term detention, community-based treatment, generalized residential treatment, or treatment-focused residential placement. In 1999, there were 7,511 juveniles placed in a residential treatment setting as a result of sexual assault charges, accounting for 7% of the total population of youth in residential placement (Puzzanchera, Stahl, Finnegan, Tierney, & Snyder, 2003). Although these statistics are sobering, an increased understanding of the dynamics involved in the development and continuation of such behaviors is a means to continue the quest to provide effective treatment.

The etiology of sexual offending behaviors is extremely complex and has been linked to mental health issues (Miner, Siekert, & Ackland, 1997; Prentky, Harris, Frizzell, & Righthand, 2000), substance abuse (Miner et al., 1997; Monson, Jones, Rivers, & Blum, 1998) and family dysfunction (Araji, 1997). With current estimates at 50% regarding substance abuse history in adolescent sex offenders (Monson et al., 1998), it is imperative that treatment of the adolescent sex offender focuses on the intersection of sexual offending behaviors and substance use. Equally important is an exploration of the trajectory of delinquency. Sexual offending behavior cannot be viewed as the beginning of the delinquent path but rather behavior that is often the consequence of a history of nonsexual delinquent acts. In a national survey of 80 juvenile sex offenders, Elliot (as cited in Weinrott, 1996) found that most of the offenders had previously committed a nonsexual assault, whereas only 7% reported the perpetration of sexual offenses alone. To add to this complicated mingling of nonsexual and sexual acts of delinquency, another trajectory involves the commission of nonsexual crimes after completing sex offender treatment. Righthand and Welch's (2001) review of the literature regarding recidivism rates of juvenile sex offenders after completing treatment found rates of 16% to 54% for nonsexual recidivism, much higher than the relatively low rates for sexual recidivism (8% to 14%).

Because of the complexity of this issue, effective treatment of the juvenile sex offender requires specialization and longer engagement of the professionals involved than does the treatment of other types of juvenile criminal behaviors. Indeed, the National Adolescent Perpetrator Network (NAPN; 1993) has suggested that treatment of the adolescent sex offender requires a minimum of 12 to 24 months. The established need for long-term treatment comes at a critical time when managed care models of treatment are being emphasized over longterm treatment models. Although managed care models have promoted accountability in treatment through an emphasis on quality over quantity of services, such models often fail to acknowledge critical differences in treatment needs related to specific issues or special populations. In the current climate of managed care, it is imperative that treatment models for adolescent sex offenders are developed from current research using strategies from empirically based theoretical foundations to promote the provision of sound treatment for this specialized population. …