Home Truths about Child Sexual Abuse: Influencing Policy and Practice - A Reader

By Catherine Itzin | Go to book overview

15

Treating adolescents who sexually abuse others

Bobbie Print and Tony Morrison


Introduction

The problem of child sexual abuse in this country is now recognised as a major concern. This recognition has resulted from growing awareness, over the past ten to fifteen years, of the significant numbers of children that are sexually abused and the damaging effects that can occur as a result. A British study (Kelly et al. 1991) revealed that one in two girls and one in four boys are likely to experience some form of sexual abuse before reaching the age of eighteen. A number of studies have identified that the effects of sexual abuse can be severe, numerous and long lasting (Browne and Finkelhor 1986; Peters 1988). As we have come to more fully appreciate the prevalence of sexual abuse and its impact on victims, we have begun to recognise that prevention of sexual abuse must depend not only on the development of child safety programmes, but also on the extent to which we can stop abusers from committing these crimes.

Much of the focus of any such preventative work with sex offenders has been with adult males and until very recently views about adolescent males who abused were predominantly that they constituted a nuisance. The overriding attitude was of 'boys will-be-boys' and the sexually abusive behaviour was thus seen as experimentation and therefore as unimportant. (Finkelhor 1979; Gagnon l965; Maclay 1960; Reiss 1960; Roberts et al. 1973). The failure to recognise the significance of sexual abuse committed by adolescents has been confounded by a lack of knowledge surrounding sexual development in adolescents, as well as the fact that victims are likely to be family members (Becker 1988; Knopp 1982) and parents frequently do not report such abuse. It was also assumed that much of the abuse committed by adolescents was a 'one off' incident and that their victims often suffered little harm (Chatz 1972; Roberts et al. 1973).

Now, however, research (Kelly et al. 1991; Glasgow et al. 1994, Home Office 1990) has identified that adolescents and younger children are responsible for approximately one-third of sexual assaults committed on children. However, despite such research and increase in knowledge about child sexual abuse by adolescents within the professional community, fundamental inadequacies in responding to this group remain. Abusive behaviour has continued to be denied,

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