Journal of Sexual Aggression
Special Issue – Children & Young People Who Display Harmful Sexual Behaviour
This special issue sprang from a conversation with editor, Sarah Brown, during NOTA conference some 3 or 4 years ago. One of my fellow editors, Kevin Creeden, had presented on the neurological impact of trauma and the effects of this on young people’s functioning and behaviour generally, and on their sexual behaviour in particular. My other co-editor, Dawn Fisher, and I had also been discussing innovative treatments involving mindfulness and bio-feedback techniques, among others. These emerging issues illustrate the pace at which the child and adolescent harmful sexual behaviour field is developing. Altogether, the time seemed ripe for an issue exploring current thinking and research relating to this group of younger people – so here it is!
We had hoped for a broader range of papers looking at some of the issues just mentioned, particularly the neuroscientific slant on trauma and attachment and how the assessment and treatment of problem sexual behaviour in young people should be viewed, assessed and treated in the context of the broader developmental and social issues; however, this wasn’t to be. Some authors submitted but were unable to complete the process and resubmit with revisions. A number of potential contributors said that they would have submitted material for consideration, but for the press of other commitments.
That said, we have an excellent series of papers ranging from programme evaluations to population studies, from methodological research issues to emerging typologies. Hopefully this will help to spur those aforementioned would-be writers into action next time around.
It is now accepted that there are clear differences between adult and juvenile populations of those who sexually offend (Reitzel & Carbonall, 2006). However, in comparison with adult offenders, there is a paucity of research relating directly to children and young people with harmful sexual behaviour. However, we do know that around a quarter to one third of sexual offences against children are committed by other children or adolescents (Home Office, 1998; Taylor, 2003; NSPCC, 2011).
For individual young people, these behaviours manifest themselves within families, against unrelated victims and, less frequently, across both settings. In this special issue, Yates et al have examined the context of offending by a sample of adolescent boys. The study examined four sets of characteristics: child; victim; sexual behaviour; and family. Findings indicate that age of onset of harmful sexual behaviour, having a learning disability and severity of their own experiences of abuse are among those factors that might distinguish those young people who abuse both inside and outside of their families. The authors clearly acknowledge the need for more work in this area and suggest that these and future findings might help inform professional thinking and decision-making in cases where risk to siblings or progression from familial to extra-familial settings is at issue.
Young people with intellectual disabilities and the prediction of recidivism is the focus of the work by Griffin and Vettor. They employed the AIM2 and adapted AIM assessment models to examine accuracy of recidivism predictions for sexual and non-sexual offending subgroups. The finding that both tools were able to predict reoffending at levels significantly better than chance, and with similar accuracy, suggests that there may not be a need for separate risk assessment tools for those young people with and without intellectual disabilities. The predictive and clinical utility of assessing strengths and concerns as separate entities is also discussed.
Research with adult samples has highlighted the significant relationship between deviant sexual interests and risk of recidivism (Hanson & Morton-Bourgon, 2004). In this issue, James Worling looks at the assessment and treatment of deviant sexual arousal in adolescents, giving a review of the kinds of techniques used and offering some suggestions on moving treatment away from the traditional focus on the deviant arousal itself. Self esteem work, building sexual health awareness and assisting young people to resolve personal intimacy issues are among the alternative treatment approaches discussed.
Treatment is also the focus of Slattery et al’s evaluation of a rolling group work programme for a mixed group of offenders in the Irish prison system, including their transition back into the community. The project was evaluated using case studies and qualitative interviews; the latter yielding some interesting insights into what the young people felt that they gained from the treatment process. The importance of professionals engaging with offenders’ families and loved ones in order to strengthen the likelihood of successful community reintegration is also emphasised.
A residential programme of a completely different kind is examined for effectiveness by Edwards et al, using psychometric pre- and post-treatment measures. The ERASOR risk assessment protocol (Worling & Curwen, 2001) was used to balance the quantitative data as the authors tested for shift across a number of psychosocial and offence-specific domains. The problem of attribution of treatment shift to the programme itself, as opposed to the therapeutic residential milieu – particularly in relation to broader psychosocial functioning – is discussed and balanced against improvements in offence-specific outcomes which suggest the programme is effective.
Jason Netland divided his sample of 333 adolescent subjects into four offender subgroups: those who offended sexually against children, those sexual offenders with peer/adult victims; cross-over sexual offenders and non-sexual delinquents. He examined each group for psychopathy traits, antisocial behaviours and parental dysfunction; the emergence of possible factor clusters across the different offender subgroups is then discussed.
Whilst the context of the final paper is a follow-up study of young people who were known to services in the 1990s for their sexual behaviour problems, Helen Masson presents the broader issues related to the planning, approval and execution of such research. With a secondary focus on the need for similar research in future, examination is made of the implications for services wishing to posture themselves to engage in studies and evaluations of this kind.
The children and young people who are the focus of this special issue, and their victims, need us to be diligent and determined in the application of research knowledge and in the pursuit of practice innovation. Only in this way, and in the influence we bring to bear on policy formulation and law-making, can we hope to give a second chance to those children whose hand in life has set them at a disadvantage – be they victims or those who abuse, or, as in most cases, both.
I’m grateful to the journal editor, Sarah Brown, for inviting me to work with her towards this special issue. I would especially like to thank Dawn Fisher and Kevin Creeden for agreeing to be involved with me in this project and for their generous help. Lastly, thank you to everyone who gave their time and effort to write, you have made a contribution and helped to move the field forward a little further!
Jonny Matthew Dawn Fisher Kevin Creeden
(Lead editor) (Co-editor) (Co-editor)
Hanson. R.K., & Morton-Bourgon, K. (2004) Predictors of Sexual Recidivism: An Updated Meta-Analysis. Ottawa, Canada: Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada.
Home Office (1998) Criminal Statistics for England and Wales, 1997. CMD.4162. London: Home Office
National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children – NSPCC (2011) NSPCC press releases ( accessed by Yates et al, 13 June 2011)
Reitzel, L.R., & Carbonell, J.L. (2006) The Effectiveness of Sexual Offender Treatment for Juveniles as Measured by Recidivism: A Meta-Analysis. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, 18 (4), 401-421.
Taylor, J.F. (2003) Children and Young Peple Accused of Sexual Abuse: A Study Within a Community. Journal of Sexual Aggression, 9, 57-70
Worling, J.R., & Curwen, T. (2001) The “ERASOR”: Estimate of Risk of Adolescent Sexual Offender Recidivism, version 2.0. Unpublished manuscript, SAFE-T Program, Thistledown Regional Centre, Toronto, Canada.
Yates, P., Allardyce, S. & MacQueen (2012) Children Who Display Harmful Sexual Behaviour: Assessing the Risks of Boys Abusing at Home, in the Community or Across both Settings. Journal of Sexual Aggression – Special Issue on Children and Young People with Harmful Sexual Behaviour. Routledge – Taylor & Francis
© Taylor & Francis 2012