The term “sex offender” carries a strong, negative connotation and is a label that is nearly impossible to erase once it is placed on an individual. Certainly we can all agree there are those in our society who deserve this label because of their atrocious offenses and the label serves as a means of protecting others from their behaviors. We can also agree that preventing sexual abuse needs to be viewed with the highest degree of importance. That being said, unfortunately, there are children and teens given this label when it is not accurate or warranted. In these cases, they actually become victimized by the very system that is intended to protect them.
In approaching this all important topic, it is important to know the facts about children and teens who act out in illegal sexual ways before placing a label that has life-long consequences.
The truth is that there is now way to pinpoint or categorize characteristics of children and teens who commit sex offenses as those who sexually offend are so diverse. Some are otherwise well-functioning youth with limited behavioral or psychological problems. Some are youth with multiple non-sexual behavior problems or prior non-sexual juvenile offenses. Some are youth with major psychiatric disorders. Some come from well-functioning families. Some from highly chaotic or abusive backgrounds. Contrary to the belief of many, most teen sex offenders have not been victims of childhood sexual abuse.
Juvenile sex offenders are significantly different from adult sex offenders in several ways:
Assuring that children and teens that engage in illegal sexual behaviors receive treatment is paramount. The research suggests that those who participate in treatment typically do not re-offend. Effective treatment for youth is critical in preventing sexual abuse.
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Matt is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has been working in the field of youth treatment and psychotherapy since 1995. He did his undergraduate work at BYU and earned his M.S.W. at the University of Utah. He has worked in a variety of treatment setting in his career ranging from wilderness therapy and residential treatment to outpatient treatment and state government.