Intrafamilial Adolescent Sex Offenders: Psychological Profile and Treatment

By Grant, J.; Indermaur, D. et al. | Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice, June 2009 | Go to article overview

Intrafamilial Adolescent Sex Offenders: Psychological Profile and Treatment


Grant, J., Indermaur, D., Thornton, J., Stevens, G., Chamarette, C., Halse, A., Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice


Foreword | Sexual abuse of children by other children or adolescents constitutes approximately 40 to 90 percent of sexual offending against children. This paper examines the nature and causes of adolescent intrafamilial sex offending and which treatment approaches are likely to be successful. Using the results of a four-year study in Western Australia, it provides an overview of intrafamilial adolescent sex offenders (IASOs), what is known about them and how they can be conceptualised. Findings show that IASOs have greater developmental trauma and family dysfunction than adult sex offenders. They also demonstrate greater levels of various behavioural difficulties associated with conduct disorders than do extra familial and adult sex offenders and the general population; most commonly ADHD and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Adolescent sex offender programs are based on those developed for adult offenders, with cognitive behavioural therapy the dominant model. However, these programs lack appropriate focus on developmental issues and the influence of family on offending patterns. Programs that combine a variety of treatment modalities show more promising outcomes. It is recommended that a need to understand adolescent sex offending as a health issue, rather than a moral one, allows for interventions that have the best possible chance of changing sexually inappropriate behaviour and ending the intergenerational transmission of abuse.

Judy Putt

General Manager, Research

While it is well understood that sexual offending against children may detrimentally impact their development, it is still not widely appreciated that much of that offending is actually perpetrated by adolescents and, in particular, brothers of victims. Estimating the size of this proportion is difficult as there has been comparatively little focus on the issue of adolescent sibling incest. However, estimates of the proportion of intrafamilial abuse which occurs between people from the same generation range from 40 to 90 percent (Bentovim, Vizard & Hollows 1 991 ; Cole 1 982; Ryan et al. 1 996). Although most of these studies rely on limited samples, it is clear that sexual abuse of children by other children or adolescents constitutes a significant proportion of sexual offending against children.

If sexual offending against children is to be effectively addressed, more must be known about the nature and causes of adolescent intrafamilial sex offending and, most importantly, which treatment approaches are likely to be successful. The aim of this paper is to provide an overview of what is known about intrafamilial adolescent sex offenders (IASOs), how different groups of IASOs can be conceptualised and what the best treatment approaches might be. This discussion draws on the results of a four-year investigation into the treatment of IASOs at a community based treatment service in Western Australia, which involved an in-depth study of 38 IASOs before, during and after treatment (Grant et al. 2008; Thornton et al 2008). Briefly, the methodology utilised for results reported in this paper involved a descriptive analysis of the profile of the sample pre-treatment, based on a range of psychometric assessments and interviews with the adolescents and their parents. In particular, results on the Millon Adolescent Clinical Inventory (MACI) were analysed using a cluster analysis.

It is agreed that the term 'adolescents who engage in sexually inappropriate behaviour' is preferable to 'adolescent sex offender' because of its emphasis on the behaviour rather than the criminality of the behaviour. However, most researchers use the latter terms and to be congruent with the literature as well as for parsimony, 'adolescent sex offender' will be used.

A profile of intrafamilial adolescent sex offenders

IASOs comprise a mixed group, but differ in some significant ways from adult incest offenders. In particular, they appear to have greater developmental trauma and family dysfunction (Hunter & Becker 1994). …

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