NEARI Press and Training Center Newsletter - Volume 11, Issue 5: Sept - Oct 2017
Juvenile Sex Offending Through a Developmental Life Course Criminology Perspective: An Agenda for Policy and Research
Welcome to the Fall! Here in the Northeast United States where we are located, children are back at school, the leaves are changing color, and there is a chill in the air. It seems like a good time to bring you, below, our synopsis of a research-to-policy article. In this article, our Canadian colleague, Patrick Lussier, makes a case for utilizing an analytical framework that "shifts the focus from variables to individuals” in describing youth with sexual behavior problems so that policymakers can create societal responses to juvenile sex offending that are appropriate and sound.

 In NEARI Press news, we are excited to present to you our brand new hot-off-the-presses 2017-18 catalog that is online here . It will also be arriving soon in its physical form to your homes and offices. We offer several new and revised books and booklets that we think you'll want to know about and purchase.

This past month, we also launched the NEARI Press and Training Center FREE 2017-18 Webinar Series . Check out the webinar poster below, and on our website , to get more information. We look forward to seeing you on the webinars! We continue to seek sponsors for our webinar series so that we can keep the webinars free and accessible to as many clinicians and other professionals as possible. If you'd like to become a sponsor , please see below or check our website for the list of benefits to you and how to sign up.

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Thank you for your interest in NEARI, and for the vital work that you do to keep children and adults safe from sexual harm,

Craig Latham, Executive Director, NEARI 
Alisa Klein, Director, NEARI Press and Training Center 
This month, David S. Prescott and Alisa Klein examine the article:
Juvenile Sex Offending Through a Developmental Life Course Criminology Perspective: An Agenda for Policy and Research
Patrick Lussier 
(Please see below for full citation and abstract.)

Can developmental life course (DLC) criminology, a methodology that calls for sound empirical evidence in analyzing juvenile delinquency, serve as a framework to facilitate a paradigm shift towards the development of sensible policy in response to juvenile sexual offending? 

Traditionally, research and analysis around juveniles with sexual behavior problems (SBPs) has focused on the pathological traits of youth who have sexually abused, which does little to explain the origins and developmental course of their offending and could possibly lead policy makers to view all juveniles with SBPs as potential adult sexual offenders. Nor can the low rates of recidivism for juvenile sexual offending be reconciled with a traits-based approach.

In contrast, the developmental life course (DLC) criminology framework incorporates into its analysis past developmental antecedents (e.g. history of sexual and nonsexual delinquency; exposure to risk and protective factors at different developmental stages) of the juveniles and views the development of juvenile sex offending behaviors as a dynamic process. The DLC perspective recognizes that empirical evidence suggests that there is no “average” JSO. That is to say, the variations among juveniles with SPBs are prevalent enough that there is no one typological category that can accurately guide theoretical, research, and policy development around these youth. And so, the DLC framework calls for taking into account the heterogeneity of juveniles with SBPs and a need for simultaneous identification of the different developmental patterns of their offending – “a paradigm that shifts the focus from variables to individuals.”

Using a DLC approach, the author examined the current body of research on developmental parameters for juvenile sex offending, such as:

  • Prevalence;
  • Age of onset;
  • Frequency;
  • Persistence;
  • Continuity into adulthood; and
  • Versatility and specialization.

Further, the author identified two distinct juvenile sexual offending trajectories that are not currently taken into account in the development of policy, treatment models, and clinical assessment protocols: “adolescent-limited” (AL) youth, and the high-rate/slow-desisters. The risk factors such as puberty, peer influence, binge drinking, delinquency involvement, sexual arousal, and opportunity for sexual offending by the AL youth, are considered transitory and specific to adolescence, so that their offending does not reflect a pattern of overwhelming deviant sexual thoughts, fantasies, or urges, nor deviant sexual preferences. AL youth are likely to desist from sexual offending quickly or even immediately. Because AL youth are hypothesized to be the vast majority of juveniles who have perpetrated a sexual offense, and they are not likely to re-offend sexually, it is important to develop policy approaches that reflect an understanding of this.

Current traits-based analysis of juveniles who have sexually offended can lead policy makers to view all juveniles as “potential adult sex offenders” and create policy responses accordingly. Because the DLC approach sheds light on the origins and developmental course of juvenile sexual offending over time, and provides concepts and processes that can inform us about the heterogeneity of the patterns of sexual offending among juveniles, it can more accurately inform policy makers about how to respond to juvenile sex offending than the current typology-based portrayal of all JSOs as potential adult sexual offenders. The author concludes that, indeed, the DLC criminology approach is an important organizing framework to use to guide policy responses to youth at risk to offend and for those who have committed sexual offenses. 

For professionals working at the front lines, the most important element of Lussier’s paper may be that not only are adolescents who have abused a heterogeneous population, but many of them desist from further sexual abuse almost immediately. Likewise, assessors and treatment programs that rightly focus on building better, harm-free lives often focus more on the immediate future and risk for specific crimes without fully taking into account the slower desistance process that Lussier describes; some youth take longer to mature than others. To this end, professionals would be wise to keep in mind that not only do the majority of youth who abuse desist, but they often desist at different rates, and that not every rule violation indicates a lifetime of criminality.
Likewise, this paper observes – once again – that not all youth who abuse do so due to abuse-specific sexual interests. Professionals of the past were understandably on the lookout for evidence of persistent sexual deviance. This paper reminds us of the need for comprehensive assessment and understanding of each youth; they are not all the same.
Early research efforts – like our assessment and treatment processes – focused on the most seemingly “pathological” aspects of youth who sexually abuse. This was to be expected at a time when people had little information to assist their strong desire to end abuse. This paper is a reminder that knowledge of strengths, assets, and other protective factors is vital in assessment-driven treatment. In fact, all of the published research has pointed to the continued need for focused inquiry and innovation in this area.
Finally, as research progresses, this paper shows that it is important to expand our research efforts beyond risk and protective factors to a deeper understanding of how these factors interact. Further, it points to the importance of understanding the processes underlying these factors and their interactions. In other words, it is vital to understand and appreciate the narrative unfolding of risk and protective factors in the lives of young people who abuse.
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.

Lussier, P. (2017). Juvenile Sex Offending Through a Developmental Life Course Criminology Perspective: An Agenda for Policy and Research. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment , Vol. 29(1) 51–80.          

A new report from the Movement Advancement Project, Youth First, and Center for American Progress details the overrepresentation of, bias against, and abuse of LGBTQ youth in the juvenile justice system.

Unjust: LGBTQ Youth Incarcerated in the Juvenile Justice System  examines how LGBTQ youth who are incarcerated in juvenile detention and correctional facilities face bias in adjudication, and mistreatment and abuse in confinement facilities. The report found that LGBTQ youth lack supportive services when leaving the criminal and juvenile justice systems, often forcing them back into negative interactions with law enforcement.

Given that nearly 40 percent of incarcerated girls identify as LGB and 85-90 percent of incarcerated LGBTQ youth are youth of color, it is crucial that any effort to change the way youth in the United States engage with the juvenile justice system must consider the unique experiences of LGBTQ youth.

Changes in California's Sex Offender Registration Laws

On October 6, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law SB 384 which, beginning July 1, 2021, will allow Tier One and Tier Two sex offenders in the State who have completed their mandatory minimum registration period (five and ten years, respectively) to be removed from the registry. The new law will change the current law which mandates these lower-tiered offenders, along with Tier Three offenders, to register for life. The Los Angeles Times reports on this new law here .

By: Toni Cavanagh Johnson, Ph.D.
Duration: 3-4 hours; CE Credits: 4

By:  Joan Tabachnick
Duration: 1-2 hours; CE Credits: 2

By: David S. Prescott, LICSW
Duration: 3-4 hours; CE Credits: 4

By: Steve Bengis, Ed.D., L.C.S.W. 
Duration: 4-5 hours; CE Credits: 5

By Reverend Debra Haffner & Joan Tabachnick 
Duration: 3-4 hours; CE Credits: 4

by Jamie Suvak, L.M.H.C. 
Duration: 1-2 hours; CE Credits: 2
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