Is technology changing the profile of teen sexual offenders?

By Matt Bulkley | Blog Education Series

STAR Guides Wilderness - Is technology changing the profile of teen sexual offenders

Is the typical profile of a juvenile sexual offender changing as a result of exposure to the ease of access to sexually explicit material? While research in this area is lacking, some researchers are suggesting it may play a role. Among those is Dr. Michael Seto, whose results from a 2011 study suggest that more consideration needs to be given to the variables of exposure to sexual violence, exposure to sex or pornography in teen sexual offending behaviors.

Juvenile sexual offenders have often been stereotyped as socially incompetent, lacking social skills and unable to read non-verbal cues from their peers. While social ineptness may very well be a characteristic of some teens committing sexual offenses, there is increasing reason to consider how the onslaught of sexually explicit media contributes to sexual offending among youth.

In today’s technology and internet driven society, opportunities for children and teens to access explicit sexual material and even sexual encounters is more plentiful than at any other time in history. As a result there been an increase in wreckless and illegal sexual behavior. Behaviors such as frequent use of pornography, involvement in explicit sexual chats, sexting through new apps such as Vine and Snapchat, and solicitation of sex through social media are becoming increasingly common. Obviously, the internet makes these activities easy to engage in. Other variables also play into the increase in these behaviors among teens including the perception that “everyone is doing it”, the belief that they are acting under the cover of anonymity, and lack of immediate consequences for these actions.

Some teens who commit sex offenses are otherwise law-abiding citizens, who don’t display anti-social or pedophilic tendencies and who do not display any significant social skill deficit. Many of these teens may not have ever crossed the line to commit illegal sexual acts were it not for exposure to sexually explicit content via the internet.

Of course, none of this makes it okay or excusable to commit a sexual offense. A sex offense is a serious crime because there is a potential victim involved – and the possibility that someone is harmed. That being said, for teens who commit a sexual offense, more than ever before, the variable of internet driven sexual content as a primary factor for the sex offense should be considered. In cases where it is a factor, the standard treatment models for sex offending may not be a complete model.

While the hard research is still lacking in this area, teen sexual offending and the use of sexually explicit internet content appears to be a growing and dangerous relationship. Unfortunately, many juvenile sex offender treatment assessments and programs lack any significant attention to pornography and sexual addiction issues. Programs and clinicians working with juvenile sexual offenders should give increased attention to the role that pornography and cybersex plays in teen sexual acting out. Treatment models need to be augmented to provide specific intervention for pornography and cybersexual addiction.

About the Author

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.

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