Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment [saj] PL100-165 December 9, 1999 4:52 Style ﬁle version Nov. 19th, 1999
Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, Vol. 12, No. 1, 2000
Were Adolescent Sexual Offenders Children
with Sexual Behavior Problems?
David L. Burton
This article compares responses of three groups of incarcerated adolescents who
admitted to sexual offending in an anonymous survey project on measures of
trauma, sexual offending, the relationship between trauma and perpetration, and
adjudication status. The ﬁrst group admitted to sexual offending before the age of
12 only (n = 48), the second after the age of 12 only (n = 130), and the third before
and after the age of 12 (n = 65). More than 46% of the sexually aggressive adoles-
cents began their deviant behaviors before the age of 12. Level and complexity of
perpetration acts were more severe for the continuous offenders than for the other
groups. Victimization and perpetration were signiﬁcantly correlated for all three
groups. This study supports a social learning hypothesis for the development of
sexual offending by adolescents. Implications for research and clinical practice
KEY WORDS: adolescent sexual aggression; social learning theory; victimization.
Children with sexual behavior problems generally exhibit a large range of
sexually and physically aggressive behaviors and typically have severe sexual
victimization histories (Burton, 1999; Burton, Nesmith, & Badten, 1997; Johnson,
1988). Their parents and siblings are frequently survivors of sexual abuse and often
suffer substance abuse and/or pathology of other sorts (Friedrich & Luecke, 1988;
Johnson & Berry, 1989; Pithers, Gray, Busconi, & Houchens, 1998).
Understanding children’s behavior in order to assist in its change is difﬁcult
for many reasons, including the great variety of their behavioral patterns and back-
ground histories (Pithers & Gray, 1997). Theoretically based treatment has been
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2000 Plenum Publishing Corporation