Juvenile Sexual Homicide

By Hunter, John A.; Hazelwood, Robert R. et al. | The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, March 2000 | Go to article overview

Juvenile Sexual Homicide


Hunter, John A., Hazelwood, Robert R., Slesinger, David, The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin


In 1992, police arrested two brothers, ages 13 and 15, for the rape and attempted murder of a 36-year-old woman. The crime was particularly heinous because the youthful offenders emotionally and physically terrorized the victim. After the rape, the victim asked the brothers if they planned to kill her. When the 13-year-old said yes, the victim asked if she could look at her mother's photograph first. The youngest offender removed the unframed photo from her dresser and tore it into small pieces in front of the kneeling victim. Then, for no apparent reason, he began cutting and stabbing her. She started screaming, and when her neighbors responded to investigate, the subjects fled. As a result of the attack, the victim suffered partial paralysis on the left side of her body. The emotional scars may never heal.

This case illustrates the extremes of violence that frequently confront the police in sexual crimes committed by juveniles. These crimes raise a question of whether the criminal justice system in general and law enforcement in particular are prepared to deal with such violent and youthful sexual criminals.

The number of juvenile offenders (defined as 17 years old and younger) arrested for sexual crimes has increased steadily over the past decade. [1] Recent studies estimate that juveniles remain responsible for 15 to 20 percent of all rapes and 30 to 60 percent of child sexual assault cases committed in the United States each year. [2] Contemporary research, as well as clinical observation, suggests that the degree to which youthful perpetrators suffer from disturbances in either the psychosocial or sexual arenas varies. Accordingly, their risk of committing crimes, particularly violent ones, also differs. [3]

In an effort to understand the similarities and differences between juveniles who assault children 5 or more years younger than themselves (child molesters), and juvenile offenders who target peers or adults (peer/adult offenders), the authors conducted extensive criminal case reviews of 126 juvenile sex offenders. The larger report presents details of sample characteristics, methods of data analysis, research findings, and how officers obtained cases. [4] This article briefly summarizes several key findings from that study and presents seven cases in which the juveniles murdered their sexual assault victims. Comprehensive information on this study can help law enforcement agencies better understand the criminal activities of the most violent and dangerous of these youthful offenders.

AGGRESSIVE BEHAVIOR

Peer/adult offenders more often showed aggressive or violent behavior in the commission of their sexual crimes than those who targeted children 5 or more years younger than themselves. In the larger study, over 25 percent of these subjects demonstrated a moderate-to-high level of aggression, and nearly 10 percent of their victims required extensive hospitalization or died as a result of their injuries.

Statistical analysis of the study's data revealed that the interaction of three variables associated with the offenders' difficulty in controlling their victims predicted higher levels of aggression and violence. These variables are: 1) the sex of the victim, 2) the age of the victim, and 3) the degree of victim resistance. In general, offenders used higher levels of violence against victims who were physically capable of defending themselves and who resisted. While experts may anticipate these results due to the youthfulness of the offenders, their lack of developed social skills, and their inability to control others without resorting to force, the data indicate that homicidal juvenile sexual offenders often engage in gratuitous violence.

Offender/Victim Characteristics

The seven youths who murdered their victims ranged in age from 14 to 17, and five of the offenders were 15 years old at the time of the offense. Three of these youths were white (42. …

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