Risk factors for juvenile sex offenders

The mean effect sizes found were low, raising questions about correctly predicting risk of sexually re-offending in juveniles. Simon Fraser University. About Summit What is Summit? McCann, Kristie. Date created:. The author has placed restrictions on the PDF copy of this thesis. The PDF is not printable nor copyable. If you would like the SFU Library to attempt to contact the author to get permission to print a copy, please email your request to summit-permissions sfu.

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School of Criminology - Simon Fraser University. These positions, however, are not universally agreed upon, and there is strong disagreement with the assertion that actuarial risk assessment has greater predictive power than clinical assessment Boer et al. Further, Rettenberger, Boer and Eher and Rich have argued that actuarial assessment does not provide information about risk or possible risk management strategies that are highly personalized for the individual being assessed; hence, it fails to meet the practical and ethical issues and requirements relevant to any individual case.

Further, it is clear that the actuarial and clinical assessment models both have strengths and weaknesses. Campbell writes that neither actuarial nor clinical risk assessment instruments stand up to rigorous scientific scrutiny, noting that all current actuarial and clinical risk assessment instruments are insufficiently standardized, lack inter-rater reliability, 4 are absent of adequate operational manuals and generally fail to satisfy significant scientific standards.

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Similarly, Grisso and Hart and colleagues have argued that such instruments have not yet achieved the level of psychometric rigor needed to meet publication standards. Sixteen years or so later, little has changed, despite advances in both adult and juvenile risk assessment. First-generation methods primarily involved unstructured clinical judgment, whereas second-generation methods involved statistically derived and static actuarial assessments of risk. Third-generation methods, which are increasingly common in sexual risk assessments of adult offenders, incorporate both the actuarial base of a static assessment and the dynamic factors of a clinical assessment.

Fourth-generation methods integrate an even wider range of dynamic factors, incorporating factors relevant to treatment interventions, case management and monitoring. Third- and fourth-generation methods not only recognize the utility of both static and dynamic risk factors, but also that "there is no reason to think that one type is superior to another when it comes to the predicting recidivism" Bonta, , p. In fact, when dynamic measures are part of the assessment process, the predictive accuracy of risk assessment can exceed that which may be achievable with only static risk factors Allan et al.

McGrath and Thompson report that although static and dynamic risk factors both predicted sexual recidivism in juveniles who commit sexual offenses, a combination of static and dynamic factors resulted in a significant improvement in prediction. While the characterizations and propositions described above are largely drawn from the literature on risk assessment for adult sexual offenders, they are equally relevant in the context of risk assessment for juveniles who commit sexual offenses, in which, thus far, clinical risk assessment represents almost the entirety of juvenile sexual risk assessment instruments, with the exception of a single actuarial instrument.

Sex Offender Risk Factors

Moreover, these ideas and principles are essential for understanding the groundwork upon which juvenile risk assessment is built. Epps describes the goal of juvenile risk assessment as synthesizing psychosocial, statistical, factual and environmental information in a manner that allows defensible decisions to be made about matters of management, treatment and placement. Within this context, Will describes three broad purposes for juvenile risk assessment: i the assessment of risk for re-offense, ii the development of a clinical formulation upon which treatment can be based and iii the assessment of the juvenile's motivation to accept and engage in treatment.

Notably, these three goals closely approximate the principles of risk, need and responsivity that have been increasingly central in practice. Graham, Richardson and Bhate describe six overarching and interactive goals for juvenile risk assessment:. In short, the goals of a comprehensive risk assessment process extend beyond the assessment of risk alone.

To this end, Prentky, Righthand and Lamade describe juvenile risk assessment as informing the treatment planning process with respect to risk-relevant needs and interventions designed to support prosocial rehabilitation. Similarly, Viljoen, Brodersen, Shaffer and McMahon have stated the "goal of risk assessment is to identify youths' needs in order to assist in planning individualized risk management or risk reduction efforts" p.

An extensive literature has developed that has identified and discussed risk factors for juvenile sexual offending.

However, much of the literature on risk factors for juvenile sexual offending remains theoretical and descriptive, rather than the result of reliably replicated statistical research. It also is characterized by a number of methodological problems and other limitations Spice et al. Spice and colleagues noted that early studies on juvenile sexual recidivism were often based on follow-up periods of less than three years, and that early, as well as more contemporary, studies often employed small sample sizes.


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They also noted that risk factors examined vary widely from one study to another. Similarly, McCann and Lussier maintained that the risk factors examined in many studies were selected by researchers based on their own clinical experience, the literature on adult sexual recidivism and, until recently, a lack of theoretical understanding regarding sexual offending behavior among juveniles.

Additionally, risk factors for juvenile sexual and nonsexual offending are significantly influenced by developmental processes in children and adolescents, and are not necessarily stable or uniform during adolescence Kim and Duwe, ; Quinsey et al. Given these problems, it is not surprising that findings regarding risk factors vary considerably and are inconsistent across different studies Spice et al.

Despite the problems outlined above, the empirical research indicates that it is the presence and interaction of multiple risk factors, rather than the presence of any single risk factor alone, that is most important in understanding risk. Thus, all risk assessment instruments — regardless of whether they are used with adults or juveniles, or whether they are actuarial or clinical — include multiple risk factor items, and all risk assessment processes are concerned not only with the presence of different risk factors, but also with the interactive and amplifying effects of multiple risk factors.

The problem of the low base rate for juvenile sexual recidivism complicates the process of determining which individual risk factors are likely to be most important in juvenile risk assessment.


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  • In fact, many of the risk factors included in juvenile risk assessment instruments used today have face validity an intuitive and perhaps common sense appeal that appears to reflect aspects of risk , but very little proven predictive validity. In any case, as Prentky et al. That is, establishing causality requires empirical evidence that the presence or absence of the risk factor results in changes in the base rate of offending behavior Prentky et al.

    This is, at best, a difficult task. The remaining 14 factors they describe as either third-tier "possible" risk factors based on general clinical support or fourth-tier "unlikely" risk factors that either lack empirical support or are contradicted by empirically derived evidence. Although evidence supporting some elements of their typology is found in later studies, it is also true that later studies have found evidence for factors not supported in their four-tier typology, as well producing some evidence for still more risk factors.

    Juvenile Sex Offenders

    Indeed, the literature is mixed and inconsistent. Leroux et al. Similarly, Miner and colleagues identified social isolation as a risk factor, or predictor, for adolescents who sexually abuse children but not peers or adults , as well as the adolescent's experience of masculine inadequacy. In their analysis of data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, Casey, Beadnell and Lindhorst also found childhood sexual victimization to be a significant predictor of later sexually coercive behavior, as was a history of adolescent delinquency.

    Similarly, Leroux et al. These included a history of prior nonsexual offenses, the use of threats or weapons, having a male victim and having a child victim. In addition, McCann and Lussier found that older age upon intake for treatment was associated with increased likelihood of reoffending. Nevertheless, they noted that even the risk factors found to be the best predictors of sexual recidivism in their study had a relatively small effect size and were based on findings derived from analyses involving small sample sizes.

    In an earlier meta-analysis, Heilbrun, Lee and Cottle 7 concluded that younger age at first offense, prior noncontact sexual offenses and having an acquaintance victim rather than a stranger victim were associated with sexual recidivism. However, in their study of juveniles who commit sexual offenses, Spice and colleagues found that only opportunity to reoffend was significantly associated with sexual recidivism, although a number of risk and protective factors were linked to nonsexual recidivism.

    As the findings presented above demonstrate, research on the risk factors for sexual recidivism has produced inconsistent and sometimes contradictory results. Indeed, as Spice and colleagues observe, it is clear that the research literature regarding risk factors for sexual recidivism among sexually abusive youth is disconnected and varied, with little to unify it. Whether the disparate findings are an artifact of the methodological variations found across studies, a reflection of real-world risk factor dynamics or some combination of the two remains unknown at this time.

    Spice and colleagues and McCann and Lussier have voiced concerns about the idiosyncratic nature of individual studies as well as the lack of consistency across studies in terms of research designs, samples, hypotheses and statistical procedures.

    Juvenile Sex Offenders. - Abstract - Europe PMC

    However, Rich argues that risk factors for sexual recidivism may operate differently in different people, and at different points in child and adolescent development. Thus, risk factors may exert different influences on the propensity to reoffend depending on a number of personal and contextual factors, including the juvenile's age, development and social settings, and the myriad interaction effects different risk factors have in different circumstances and at different points in time. Casey, Beadnell and Lindhorst similarly noted how difficult it is to clearly implicate in sexually coercive behavior any one risk factor in the absence of other potential risk factors, again highlighting the role multiple risk factors play in contributing to juvenile sexual recidivism.

    Each set of authors recognizes prior childhood sexual victimization as a risk factor for later juvenile sexually abusive behavior. Similarly, in their study of sexually abusive youth, van der Put and colleagues found that a history of childhood sexual abuse was not a risk factor for recidivism, although they reported significant differences in the incidence of prior sexual victimization among different types or groups of sexually abusive youth, reflecting both heterogeneity within the population and the multifaceted nature of risk factors.

    Despite a developing research base, the empirical evidence concerning the validity of commonly identified risk factors for juvenile sexual offending remains weak and inconsistent.