A sex offender is a person who commits sexual offenses against minors. In general, juvenile victims are victims who are younger than 18 years of age. And, in general, juvenile sex offenders are minors between six (6) and 17 years of age who commit sexual offenses against other children.
The following behaviors are considered to be sexual offenses: a) sharing pornography; b) fondling a child over the clothes; c) grabbing peers in a sexual way at school, d) date rape; e) gang rape; f) performing sexual acts of any kind on a child; g) causing or coercing a child to perform sexual acts of any kind; h) voyeurism; i) exhibitionism; j) obscene phone calls.
Effect on Families
A family may be devastated to learn that their child has been accused of or charged with commiting a sex crime. Also, the family may feel lost in the confusion and procedures of the child protective services and other legal systems. If the child is accused of committing a sexual offense against a sibling, the family may be faced with the incarceration of the offender and/or the removal of the child who is the alleged victim. There would likely be an investigation in which all family members would be interviewed.
An investigation may involve law officers, attorneys, or other legal representatives. Families may feel torn over which child to support, and may, in fact, become divided over the issue. However, some families may become closer during the crisis. In either case, families may decide to seek professional help for one or more family members.
When to Seek Help
Children who commit sexual offenses against other children are not likely to outgrow their sexual patters without professional intervention of some kind. Additionally, children who are sexually assaulted by other children often develop extremely distressing psychological side effects. Also, evidence shows a greater likelihood that juvenile victims will be re-victimized in some way.
Please contact a law officer, a professional family therapist, or both when you become aware of any of the following:
a child tells you he/she has committed a sexual offense against another child;
a child in your family is charged with a sexual offense;
a child confides in you that he/she is unable to control his/her sexual impulses;
you suspect that a child has sexually violated another child;
you have reason to believe that a child will, at some point, sexually violate another child;
you know that a child has sexually violated another child;
you discover that a child is watching pornography;
you discover that a group of children has access to pornographic materials;
you know that a child secretly watches others through windows or has other means of surveillance;
you know of sexualized bullying or harassment that targets a child;
you see a child expose him/herself to another child
you hear a child make obscene, sexual remarks to another child
Help is available for juvenile sex offenders, for juvenile victims of sexual offenses, and for the families of both groups of children. Professionals who have special credentials for working with families will assist families in developing and maintaining healthy relationships as they work through difficulties that often arise in these family systems.
Some states have sex offender treatment boards that offer lists of licensed clinicians who have training in working with juvenile sex offenders. Visit AAMFT’s TherapistLocator.net service for help in locating well-qualified family therapists.
When contacting a professional family therapist, there may be several treatment options to consider. Listed below are several types of interventions your family therapist may recommend:
Individual Therapy – the therapist meets one-on-one with the juvenile offender or with the juvenile victim at the request of the parents or legal guardians
Family Therapy – the therapist meets with several (or all) members of the family group to openly discuss what has happened and help the family develop healthy strategies for dealing with the crisis
Group Therapy – the therapist leads discussion groups involving 8 - 10 individuals from different families to help them gain insights from others who have similar experiences
Treatment Facility – the therapist may recommend that the child’s parents or guardians consider placing the child in a residential treatment center for an extended period of intense therapy and round-the-clock supervision
Family therapists are also extremely helpful to family members as they support the juvenile sex offender or the juvenile victim during treatment. The family therapist can help the family and juvenile gain a greater understanding of attitudes and beliefs that may have contributed to the sexual acting out. Family therapy may also help family members develop healthier ways to express and communicate feelings.
Our Children - Child Sexual Abuse: A Resource Guide to Help Parents, Children, and Professionals: This booklet defines sex abuse and looks at the power of secrets in sex abuse, the legal and child protective system, and treatment for sex offenders.
National Center for Sexual Behavior of Youth: This site has information about children and adolescents with illegal sexual behavior.
The Safer Society Press: Books and media resources for parents and others on sex abuse and other topics.
You Have the Power: Offers online educational materials about the effects of sexual and physical abuse on women and children.
Thomas, D. W. (1992). Special Report: Juvenile Sex Offenders. National Center for Juvenile Justice.
Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. (2009). Juveniles who commit sex offenses against minors. Retrieved from www.unh.edu/ccrc/pdf/CV171/.pdf