The Profile and Treatment of Male Adolescent Sex Offenders

By Lakey, Joyce F. | Adolescence, Winter 1994 | Go to article overview

The Profile and Treatment of Male Adolescent Sex Offenders


Lakey, Joyce F., Adolescence


The rising incidence of sexual crimes by children against children is no longer America's best kept family secret. Treatment centers for youthful sex offenders mushroomed from 20 nationally in 1982 to about 650 now (inpatient and outpatient), according to Gail Ryan, director of the National Adolescent Perpetrators Network, affiliated with the University of Colorado (Lakey, 1993). Further, Groth, Longo and McFadin (1982) (cited in Blaske, Borduin, Charles, Henggeler, & Mann, 1989) established that a significantly high number of adult sex offenders began their criminal offenses during adolescence. Given these two alarming facts, both lay persons and professionals need to become familiar with a heretofore "forbidden" subject that is gaining increased media notice and public outcry.

This paper presents an overview of the profile and treatment of male adolescent sex offenders. As defined by the National Adolescent Perpetrator Network (Scavo & Buchanan, 1989, p. 60), an adolescent sex offender is a "youth ranging from puberty to the age of legal majority who commits any sexual interaction with a person of any age against the victim's will, without consent, or in an aggressive, exploitive, or threatening manner."

Empirical research on male adolescent sex offenders with control groups of "normal" agemates is rare (Davis & Leitenberg, 1987). Therefore a profile may be ambiguous because he (the majority are males) is a combination of what experts have traditionally perceived to be "normal" plus abnormal behavior patterns.

A normal adolescent boy is frequently self-absorbed, but an offender is obsessively so, totally bent on satisfying his own needs with no thought of others. The question becomes: Where does normal end and abnormal begin? As puberty approaches, a normal adolescent boy usually begins to show interest in the opposite sex. This is also true of an offender. He may even be attracted to both sexes, but his interest is neither casual nor respectful; it is opportunistic and manipulative, laden with inappropriate sexual fantasies which he may scheme to fulfill.

Normal adolescents usually seek the company of agemates, and though an offender may sincerely wish for pleasurable peer relationships, he possesses few social skills which enable him to initiate or maintain such associations. Thoughts of building up to a sexual relationship are nonexistent; immediate sexual gratification is the goal. Normal adolescents may rebel, but the rebellion is usually manifested in legitimate ways (e.g., long hair, messy rooms), while the sex offender thrills to doing the forbidden (Berenson, 1988).

Fehrenbach, Smith, Monastersky, & Deisher (1986) referred to a study that described several qualities that seemed to set offenders apart from their normally developing peers. "Typically they are lonely and socially isolated from peers; they prefer the company of younger children; they are naive and lack suitable sex education; and they frequently experience disturbed family relations". Kahn and Lafond (1988) concurred.

Bengis (The Vicious Circle, 1989) suggested that juvenile sex offenders have a wide range of mental and emotional problems which do not fit a standardized mold. The continuum spreads from naive experimenters to sadistic rapists and somewhere in between. They may be very intelligent or so low in functioning that they are considered retarded. They rarely feel remorse or empathy for their victims, and they deny offenses or minimize the acts and the damage they inflict.

Several factors of etiological importance were noted by Davis and Leitenberg (1987), including "feelings of male inadequacy; low self-esteem; fear of rejection and anger toward women; atypical erotic fantasies; poor social skills; having been sexually abused; and exposure to adult models of aggression, dominance, and intimidation". The authors pointed out that empirical research regarding these characteristics was either rare or flawed. …

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