Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, Vol. 17, No. 3, July 2005 (
Juvenile Sex Offenders: A Case Against the Legal
and Clinical Status Quo
Elizabeth J. Letourneau
and Michael H. Miner
The past two decades have seen a movement toward harsher legal sanctions and
lengthy, restrictive treatment programs for sex offenders. This has not only been
the case for adults, but also for juveniles who commit sex offenses. The increased
length and severity of legal and clinical interventions for juvenile sex offenders
appear to have resulted from three false assumptions: (1) there is an epidemic of
juvenile offending, including juvenile sex offending; (2) juvenile sex offenders have
more in common with adult sex offenders than with other juvenile delinquents;
and (3) in the absence of sex offender-speciﬁc treatment, juvenile sex offenders are
at exceptionally high risk of reoffending. The available data do not support any
of the above assumptions; however, these assumptions continue to inﬂuence the
treatment and legal interventions applied to juvenile sex offenders and contributed
to the application of adult interventions to juvenile sex offending. In so doing, these
legal and clinical interventions fail to consider the unique developmental factors
that characterize adolescence, and thus may be ineffective or worse. Fortunately,
a paradigm shift that acknowledges these developmental factors appears to be
emerging in clinical areas of intervention, although this trend does not appear as
prevalent in legal sanctions.
KEY WORDS: juvenile sex offenders; treatment; registration; community notiﬁcation.
[T]here is one thing we know to be absolutely true: Sex offenders are a very unique type
of criminal. I like to say they have three very unique characteristics: They are the least
likely to be cured; they are the most likely to reoffend; and they prey on the most innocent
members of our society. (Shapiro, 1998, p. 117)
Family Services Research Center, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, South Carolina.
Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis,
To whom correspondence should be addressed at Family Services Research Center, Medical Univer-
sity of South Carolina, 67 President Street, #CPP Box 250861, Charleston, South Carolina 29425;
2005 Springer Science+Business Media, Inc.