Friday, March 13, 2020

Public & Policy engagement: A one-page overview on juveniles who have sexually offended

By Norbert Ralph, PhD, MPH

In consultations to probation officers, attorneys, judges, and mental health colleagues, I often find that many have no prior clinical or research background regarding these youth. However, these professionals are often in the role of having to make decisions regarding youth who have offended, decisions that have consequences both for public safety and the youth's future.

I've tried a variety of methods to provide relevant information including providing articles and presentations. Most recently I found the most useful method that seems to make a difference is to provide these individuals with a one-page handout regarding basic information. I am offering it here with the hope that others might find it useful. Its goal is to provide basic facts for decision-makers. The information included is reasonably "fact checked" and relevant references are noted. Although the handout is evidence-based, it reflects my own analysis of the literature. Others might develop different models and I would encourage that. The advantages of having a one-page handout that will be actually read, are counterbalanced with not having a more extensive discussion of the literature, including methodological limitations, considerations of cost and practicality, and competing models and theories, and this would be a limitation of the present method.


Juveniles who Sexually Offended (JwSO)

The most recent research on sexual recidivism for JwSO is encouragingly low, at about 3%. Of course, recidivism causes significant harm to victims, and so each case should be considered individually. The total recidivism for these youth is estimated to be 30%, which includes nonsexual crimes (Caldwell, 2016).
The peak age of persons accused of sexual offenses against children is age 13, a rate of almost 120/100,000 in the population, which drops off rapidly at 18 by about half (Statistics Canada, 2014). Dr. Barbara Bonner, Director of the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, describes early adolescence as a "high risk transitory period for sexual offending", and most JwSO can be treated successfully in the community (Bonner, 2012). It is this concept of offending being transitory that often gets lost in discussions of supervision and treatment.

Risk factors for recidivism in one research include being a victim of physical or sexual abuse, special education status, multiple victims, crimes committed in public places, and prior juvenile convictions of any type (Epperson, Ralston, Fowers, DeWitt, & Gore, 2006). Denial of the sexual offense at the beginning of treatment does not predict outcome or recidivism (Langton, et al, 2008). Factors which promote positive treatment outcome for juveniles who sexually offended are similar to those for the general probation population which include counseling methods that promote social problem-solving and skill building, rigorous probation supervision, and wraparound services (Lipsey, 2009; Kettrey & Lipsey, 2018).

Delays in social judgment and impulse control are an important risk factor for sexual offending for adolescents which can be remediated which is associated with positive outcomes (Ralph, 2019). Important elements of treatment include a review of specific sexual charges with the family, a Safety Plan, skill building to promote social problem-solving, what consent means in sexual relations and relevant laws, healthy sexual relationships, risk factors for the instant offense, developing a relapse prevention plan, and a plan for healthy prosocial relationships. Regular involvement and appropriate counseling of parents is essential. Dr. Bonner has a free guidebook for parents/caregivers of youth who sexually offended, Taking Action (Bonner, 2009). For a given youth, there is no evidence residential or secure placement compared to community placement promotes better outcomes (Lipsey, 2009).


Bonner, B. (2009). Taking Action (Adolescents) - PDF Download. [online] Safer Society Press. Available at: [Accessed 8 Mar. 2020].

Bonner, B. (2012, November 01). Don’t Shoot: We’re Your Children. What We Know about Children and Adolescents with Sexual Behavior Problems. Retrieved February 20, 2017, from Boy Scouts of America,

Caldwell, M. F. (2016). Quantifying the Decline in Juvenile Sexual Recidivism Rates. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law. Advance online publication.

Epperson, D., Ralston, C., Fowers, D., DeWitt, J., & Gore, K. (2006). Actuarial risk
assessment with juveniles who sexually offend: Development of the Juvenile Sexual Offense
Recidivism Risk Assessment Tool-II (JSORRAT-II). In D. Prescott (Ed.), Risk assessment of youth who have sexually abused (pp. 118 169). Oklahoma City, OK: Wood N Barnes.

Kettrey, H., & Lipsey, M. (2018). The effects of specialized treatment on the recidivism of juvenile sex offenders: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Experimental Criminology, 14(3), 1-27.

Langton, C. M., Barbaree, H. E., Harkins, L., Arenovich, T., McNamee, J., Peacock, E. J., Dalton, A., Hansen, K. T., Luong, D., & Marcon, H. (2008). Denial and minimization among sexual offenders: Posttreatment presentation and association with sexual recidivism. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 35(1), 69–98.

Lipsey, M. W. (2009). The primary factors that characterize effective interventions with juvenile offenders: A meta-analytic overview. Victims and Offenders, 4, 124-147. 23.

Ralph, N. (2019). Treatment Options and Outcomes for the Other Recidivism. Sexual Abuse Blog, April 26, 2019,

Statistics Canada. (2016, May 10). Young adult offenders in Canada, 2014 Young adult offenders in
Canada, 2014. Retrieved from


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