The Impact of Risk Factors on the Treatment of Adolescent Sex Offenders

Article excerpt

The authors investigated the impact that 5 selected risk factors have on the treatment outcome of adolescent male sex offenders. The results indicated that the greatest risk factor among sex offenders was having a mother who had a substance abuse problem.


Although there is a plethora of literature on the effects and treatment of child sexual abuse, very little has been written to date on treatment outcomes of sex offenders, particularly juvenile offenders. Research on adolescent sex offenders is vital because of the high offending rate of this group as compared with the general population. 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. Valliant and Bergeron (1997) reported that 30% to 50% of child sexual abuse cases are perpetrated by juveniles. In fact, at least a half million juveniles commit a sex crime every year (Weinrott et al., 1997). It is estimated that, without treatment, the average adolescent sex offender will go on to commit 380 sex crimes during his or her lifetime (Barbaree, Hudson, & Seto, 1993). This rate is most likely higher because not all offenses are discovered or disclosed by victims, and even when discovered by third parties, not all such offenses are reported to the authorities (Vizard, Monck, & Misch, 1995).

Unfortunately, some studies have not shown the efficacy of treatment for child sexual abusers. For example, O'Reilly et al. (1998) found that not all sex offending adolescents responded to treatment. Rather, low-risk cases showed treatment effects, whereas high-risk cases were found to have lower ability levels, lower levels of maternal and paternal care, and poorer levels of psychological and psychosocial functioning. Hall (1995) reported that in a meta-analysis of studies that examined recidivism after treatment, 19% of the sex offenders committed additional sexual offenses. However, the author suggested that any reduction in recidivism is important because it reduces the harm done to victims and the monetary costs to society. It is also important to note that the base rate for recidivism is between 15% and 35% for untreated sex offenders (Craissati & McClurg, 1997). Another longitudinal study investigated the effectiveness of cognitive-behavioral treatment with sex offenders. Marques, Day, Nelson, and West (1994) found that when compared with groups receiving no treatment, the treatment group had the lowest reoffense rates for both sex crimes and other violent crimes. Main effects analyses did not yield conclusive results regarding the program's effectiveness. However, the authors explained that methodological errors (i.e., inappropriate comparison groups, using tests without adequate statistical power) may have interfered with finding statistically significant treatment outcomes.

Adolescent sex offenders enter treatment with various demographic characteristics that act as risk factors and may interfere with the success of treatment. These risk factors may include sexual and physical abuse; neglect; alcohol and drug use; dysfunctional family relationships; parental history of substance abuse, incarcerations, and psychiatric illness; criminal record; low social competence; problems at school; and previous placements. In reviewing the literature, Vizard et al. (1995) found that adolescent sex offenders have been reported as (a) being more socially isolated than their peers, (b) having dysfunctional families in which violence between parents and toward the children was common, (c) having parents with victimization in their own childhood, (d) displaying academic and behavioral problems in school, and (e) having low self-esteem and depressive/anxious symptoms. Knight and Prentky (1993) reported that sex offenders had significantly lower social competence, demonstrating significantly greater lifestyle impulsivity, criminal acts, and previous placements. …