Lussier, P. (2015). Juvenile Sex Offending Through a Developmental Life Course Criminology Perspective: An Agenda for Policy and Research. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment. Advance online publication.
Current American policies and responses to juvenile sex offending have been criticized for being based on myths, misconceptions, and unsubstantiated claims. In spite of the criticism, no organizing framework has been proposed to guide policy development with respect to the prevention of juvenile sex offending. This article proposes a developmental life course (DLC) criminology perspective to investigate the origins, development, and termination of sex offending among youth. It also provides a review of the current state of knowledge regarding various parameters characterizing the development of sex offending (e.g., prevalence, age of onset, frequency, persistence, continuity in adulthood, and versatility). The review highlights some heterogeneity across these developmental parameters suggesting the presence of different sex offending patterns among youth. In fact, it is proposed that, based on the current knowledge, such heterogeneity can be accounted for by a dual taxonomy of adolescents involved in sexual offenses: (a) the adolescent-limited and (b) the high-rate/slow-desister. The DLC criminology approach and the dual taxonomy are proposed as organizing frameworks to conduct prospective longitudinal research to better understand the origins and development of sex offending and to guide policy development and responses to at-risk youth and those who have committed sexual offenses.
Could you talk us through where the idea for the research came from?
This article is the result of close to fifteen years of research going back to the start of my PhD studies in criminology and, since then, several experiences working on longitudinal cohort studies on the psychosocial development of children and adolescents in Canada, USA, UK and the Netherlands. These experiences lead to the formulation of developmental life course (DLC) framework, as proposed in the article, to describe and explain the origins and developmental course of sexual violence and abuse. The idea for this article was sparked by three key observations: (a) misguided policy development regarding the prevention of sexual offenses, which includes measures that are too often based on myths, misconceptions, false and/or unsubstantiated claims about individuals having committed a sexual offense; (b) major advances in developmental research in the past three decades regarding the processes by which atypical, non - normative, and maladaptive behaviors start, develop and terminate, as well as the importance of recognizing the role and importance of age-graded factors contributing to their developmental course, and; (c) the lack of prospective longitudinal research to investigate the origins and the development of sexual violence and abuse to inform policymakers and treatment providers. This article offers a theoretical and research framework to better understand the origins and the development of sexual violence and abuse.
What kinds of challenges did you face throughout the process?
The ideas put forth in the article have been extraordinarily well received. There seems to be an understanding that it is a necessary step for the advancement of research and policy in the field of sexual violence and abuse. The real challenge, now, is the implementation of a DLC research program to study the origins and the developmental course of sexual violence and abuse over time.
What do you believe to be to be the main things that you have learnt about juvenile sexual offending and its relationship to policy?
Much has been said about the significant and dangerous gap between research and policy with respect to juvenile sex offending and the disastrous consequences. Current policies are typically repressive, reactive, and after the fact. At that stage, for some young persons, the risk factors have been operating for years and these factors could have been identified and corrected sooner. For others, the risk factors are transitory and contextual and can be corrected through specialized intervention. This speaks of the diversity of developmental trajectories that can lead to the occurrence of sexual offending during adolescence.
Research in the field of juvenile sexual offending has also been reactive or in reaction to these misguided policies. A more proactive approach is necessary for better policy development and to align policies with empirically-based evidence. It starts with the implementation of prospective longitudinal research with community-based samples of families. It includes a program of research to better understand the development of normative and non - normative sexual behavior and associated risk and protective factors from the earliest developmental stages, such as pre/perinatal, infancy, etc. This program of research also takes into consideration that discontinuity of non - normative behavior is the general rule across developmental stages and that early identification of non - normative sexual behavioral development is more complex and subtle than commonly believed. In sum, the developmental life course perspective offers a proactive perspective to assist and guide policy development for the prevention of sex offending.
Now that you’ve published the article, what are some implications for practitioners?
The DLC perspective is a theoretical and research framework allowing this field of research to make a significant step toward the realities that practitioners are encountering on a daily basis. This step includes a common language for researchers and practitioners to communicate more clearly about the origins and the developmental course of sex offending. In doing so, the framework will stimulate the development of an understanding of sex offending in the context of developing human lives. Because the DLC perspective recognizes the diversity of human lives and individual development, it allows for a person-oriented perspective for assessment and treatment purposes, something currently lacking. In all, the proposed DLC framework aims to bring those realities into the realm of research and, most importantly, policy and prevention.