The Effect of Adolescent Sex Offender Abuse History on Counselor Attitudes

By Carone, Stacia S.; LaFleur, N. Kenneth | Journal of Addictions & Offender Counseling, April 2000 | Go to article overview

The Effect of Adolescent Sex Offender Abuse History on Counselor Attitudes


Carone, Stacia S., LaFleur, N. Kenneth, Journal of Addictions & Offender Counseling


Counseling students' judgments of adolescent sex offenders with sexual or physical abuse histories were examined. Sexually abused offenders were more desirable as prospective clients than were nonabused offenders. Sexually abused counselors desired to see physically abused offenders as clients over sexually abused offenders. Implications for counseling are presented.

Until recently, therapeutic treatment of adolescent sexual offenders has been lacking. Research has not adequately explored the therapeutic relationship between adolescent sex offender clients and their counselors. Specifically, research has scarcely addressed counselors' judgments about working with adolescent sex offenders. Given the nature of such clients' problem (i.e., sexual acting out), many counselors may be hesitant to work with offenders because such behavior has been judged primarily as a crime and not as a therapeutic issue (Steen & Monnette, 1989). Consequently, counselors' judgments about working with adolescent sex offenders will affect their ability to develop therapeutic relationships with this population (Steen & Monnette, 1989). With increasing numbers of adolescent sexual offenders being reported, counselors will need to explore their judgments and make reformed decisions about working with these clients (Farrenkopf, 1992). Counselor judgment has been defined by Thomas, Sayers, Borgers, and Barke (1987) as the counselor's desire to work with a client and the counselor's perception of the client's need for counseling.

There are many factors that influence counselors' desire to work with sex offenders and counselors' perceptions of offenders' need for counseling. Such factors may include a history of physical or sexual abuse reported by the client (Bruinsma, 1988). Researchers have found that many sex offenders report sexual or physical abuse histories that may affect the offenders' current offending behaviors. Learning theories (Freeman-Longo, 1986; Steen & Monnette, 1989) support the idea that a sexual or physical abuse history influences offending behaviors. The theories may help counselors develop a rationale for working with sex offenders. The use of these theories may increase the counselor's understanding of the offender as victim. Learning theories also provide counselors with a model from which to work in addressing the cycle of abuse and offending by adolescent clients.

Counselors may judge sex offenders with no reported abuse history differently than they will offenders with reported abuse histories because, in the first case, a rationale for offending behaviors may not be determined. Offenders lacking a reported abuse history may be perceived as criminals without victim status. Some theories explaining offending behavior by nonabused offenders include congenital or acquired brain damage (Hendricks et al., 1988) and in utero exposure to high levels of opposite sex hormones (McConaghy, 1993). Such problems are chronic, biologically based, and difficult to treat. Other explanations for offending behaviors are extracted from criminal justice theories. Counselors may see the need for more intrusive intervention for nonabused offenders, such as medication or incarceration, or both.

The physical or sexual abuse history of counselors may also affect their judgments of adolescent sex offenders because counselors have been reported to feel traumatized by working with sexual offender clients (Allen & Brekke, 1996). As a result of counselor experiences of sexual abuse, Mitchell and Melikian (1995) have revealed that counselor countertransference reactions to sexual offenders may create personal difficulties in working with this population.

Research in counselors' judgments of adolescent sex offender clients is scarce. Accordingly, this study was designed to identify differences in counselor judgments of adolescent sex offender clients with reported abuse histories and of adolescent sex offender clients without reported abuse histories. …

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