Prepared for the Jefferson County Commissioner's Task Force, 10/99: By Gail Ryan, MA., Director, Perpetration Prevention Program, Kempe Children's Center; Sr Instructor, Dept Pediatrics, Univ. Colo HSC; Facilitator, Nat'l Adolescent Perpetration Network Denver Colorado.
Background: The identification and treatment of sexually abusive youth is a relatively new occurrence. In 1983, there were only 20 programs in all of North America providing specialized care and treatment for such youth. Today, there are over 1000 programs in the US and the world providing specialized "offense-specific" treatment to adolescents, and several hundred programs also treating younger children. In these 15 years, specialized programming has evolved to a point of consensus among the multidisciplinary professionals involved with the management of cases, clear treatment goals and objectives, and development of a continuum of services providing different levels of intensity and restrictiveness for youth on the basis of differential diagnosis and risk assessment. With the evolution of the field, research data have begun to validate our understanding of these youth and recidivism data are now becoming available, charting recidivism rates in the years following treatment One new study has compared outcomes for treated and untreated youth.
References to Empirical Research: Margaret Alexander (Journal of Sexual Abuse Treatment and Research, 1999) Eight studies totaling over 1000 juveniles who participated in offense-specific treatment in a variety of settings and found that combined recidivism rates for all those youth were 7.1% in 3-5 year followup. (This was in comparison to adults who had overall rates of 13%: 20% for the rapists, 14.4% for the child molesters, and 19.7% for exhibitionists) Rates were even higher among untreated adults (18% overall). These studies did not have untreated juvenile comparisons.* Charles Borduin and his colleagues (Int'l Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 1990) compared the effect of an offense-specific, multisystemic treatment to nonspecific traditional counseling and found that the specialized multisystemic treatment resulted in an 83% reduction in the rate of sexual offense recidivism (as well as a 50% reduction in non-sexual offense recidivism), compared to that of the youth who received traditional nonspecific therapy. Sexual recidivism was 12.5 % in the specialized treatment sample compared to 75% in the sample who had traditional counseling. Most recently, James Worling (submitted for publication, CAN Int'l Journal, 1999) reports that his program in Canada obtained records from all jurisdictions in Canada of any new (juvenile or adult) charges filed against two groups of sexually abusive youth, an average of 6 years after they were identified and assessed. One group had successfully completed offense-specific group treatment along with treatment aimed at enhancing family and peer relationships, and the second group had been assessed for treatment due to similar sexual offenses, but had either not entered treatment or had dropped out of treatment prematurely. They found that the treated group had a 72% reduction in sexual recidivism, along with a 41% reduction in non-sexual violence charges and 59% reduction of non-violent/non-sexual charges, in comparison to the untreated sample: 18% of the untreated boys had new charges, compared to 5% of those who had successfully completed treatment.
Conclusion: Research to date indicates that recidivism rates of juveniles who commit sexual offenses are significantly less than those of adults, and are further significantly reduced by successful completion of treatments which specifically address the sexual offense issues, when compared to rates of youth receiving nonspecific treatment and/or youth who are identified and assessed, but do not complete treatment. .Reducing the risk of recidivism by sexually-abusive youth by providing specialized treatment programs is likely to result in fewer victims and make the community safer.