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Adolescent Sex Offenders: Common Misconceptions vs. Current Evidence

NCJ Number
Date Published
July 2003
4 pages
This paper identifies 12 common misconceptions about adolescent (ages 13 to 17) sex offenders (ASOs) based on relevant research findings.
The misconception that a few sex crimes are committed by adolescents was exposed by data that show ASOs compose 17 percent of all arrests for sex offenses and commit one-third of all sex offenses against children. The belief that only adolescent males commit sex offenses is undermined by data that show female adolescents account for 1 percent of ASO forcible rapes, as well as 7 percent of juvenile arrests for sex offenses. Also, a significant percentage of ASOs have histories of aggressive, seriously harmful sexual behavior, countering the misconception that ASOs do not commit serious sex offenses. The misconception that ASOs come from dysfunctional families is discounted by research that shows the diversity of ASO families, many of which are not dysfunctional. Research does not support the belief that ASOs were sexually molested as children; their molestation rates range from 20 percent to 55 percent, and several studies report higher rates of physical abuse than sexual abuse. The misconception that ASOs will become adult sexual offenders is exposed by data that show rates of sexual reoffending (5 percent to 14 percent) are lower than rates for other delinquent behavior (8 percent to 58 percent). The belief that ASOs require long-term, intensive therapy is dispelled by data that show many ASOs are successfully treated in shorter, less intensive treatment programs. Research also shows that many ASOs can safely remain in the community while being treated, thus undermining the common belief that they must be treated in secure residential facilities. Other misconceptions dispelled by research are that ASOs have serious psychological disorders, that they should not attend public schools, that there are instruments that can predict ASO reoffending, and that ASOs are similar to adult sex offenders. 16 references

Date Published: July 1, 2003