Fast facts about adolescents who have sexually offended

Fact 1: Adolescents commit sexual crimes.

Adolescents (ages 13-17) account for approximately 25% of all sexual crimes and 35% of all sexual offenses against minors (OJJDP, Juvenile Justice Bulletin, December 2009). While males perpetrate most sexual offenses committed by adolescents, females account for 5-10% of adolescents who engage in sexually abusive acts (OJJDP, Juvenile Justice Bulletin, December 2009).

Fact 2: Most adolescents do not commit a second offense.

On average, just 7% of adolescents who commit a sexual crime continue to engage in sexually abusive behavior (Caldwell, 2010).

Fact 3: Adolescents are not mini-adults.

Adolescents adjudicated for sexual crimes differ from adults convicted of sexual crimes in many ways including motivational factors and brain development. These differences make it easier to successfully intervene with adolescents through treatment and therapy to prevent a trajectory of continued sexual violence.

Fact 4: Many adolescents were victims before they became perpetrators.

Adolescents who engage in sexually abusive behavior have experienced higher rates of neglect, abandonment, and sexual victimization compared to non-offending youth or youth who have committed non-sexual crimes. However, the majority of adolescents who sexually offend were not victims of sexual abuse.

Fact 5: Adolescents who sexually offend are a diverse group.

Adolescents who sexually abuse others cross all socioeconomic, educational, gender, age, and cultural lines. There is no typical profile of someone who sexually offends.

Fact 6: Most adolescents who sexually offend know their victims.

Most adolescents who sexually abuse others know their victims. Stranger-on-stranger abuse is extremely rare.

Fact 7: Effective treatment is community-based and customized.

Community-based treatment is effective for most adolescents. Residential treatment is best reserved for the minority of youth with higher levels of immediate risks and needs. Effective treatment for adolescents who have engaged in sexually abusive behavior incorporates family involvement, when it is safe to do so, and is individualized based on the specific needs, developmental level, and risks for other forms of crime or misconduct by the adolescent.

Fact 8: Most adolescents can safely reintegrate back into their communities.

Most adolescents can safely return to their communities when they are able to receive supervision that provides structure, support, and oversight. This typically requires collaboration among treatment providers, victim advocates, social service agencies, housing and job support services, education specialists, and other professionals.

Fact 9: Registries and residency restrictions generally do not make communities safer.

Laws that limit where sexual offenders can live and work, and that require registration and public notification, typically do more harm than good. Here are four reasons why:

  • Because people who have sexually abused others already have such a low recidivism rate, such laws do not reduce reoffenses any further. Enforcing these restrictions uses up valuable law enforcement resources.
  • The majority of sexual offenses are perpetrated by someone who knows the victim, so registration and residency laws based on the concept of “stranger danger” do not generally make society safer.
  • By limiting where someone can live and work, communities make it harder for that person to return to society and become a productive, tax-paying citizen. In fact, many people placed on registries ultimately become homeless and require public assistance. This does not contribute to their reformation, make society any safer, or contribute to the economic health of communities.
  • The registry restrictions placed on adolescents prevent them from engaging in the sort of prosocial activities at school and with peers in other settings that lead to positive cognitive and emotional development, thus stunting their ability to become emotionally healthy adults. In addition, recent research shows that adolescents placed on registries are at higher risk for suicide.