Tuesday, July 20, 2010

New Study Challenges Stereotypes of Adolescent Sex Offenders

A new study which looks at the data from a variety of samples confirms what many of us have been saying for years and that is that sexual violence among non-strangers should never be dismissed as just a misunderstanding and needs to be looked at as a matter of the person's values and ethics related to how they treat other people sexually in the context of how personal sexual ethics are reinforced or undermined by wider social norms.

When people claim misunderstanding as the cause of sexual offenses many times it is presented as acceptable for someone to proceed sexually without ensuring willing participation and to proceed even when any agreement or compliance is not freely given. This teaching about acceptable perpetration happens every time someone blames a victim for not being clearer in their non-consent.

A new study looks at the contrast between the stereotypes of young sex offenders and the reality.
WASHINGTON – Adolescent sex offenders are often stereotyped and treated as socially inept, but new research negates this image, finding that they are more likely to be characterized by atypical sexual interests -- such as desire for prepubescent children, coercive sex with peers and adults, and exposing their genitals to strangers. Adolescent sex offenders are also more likely to have a history of sexual abuse themselves, been exposed to sexual violence in their families, and experienced early exposure to sex or pornography.

"If you walked into a typical group treatment for adolescent sex offenders, you might notice a lot of focus on social skills, like how to approach a girl, how to deal with conflict and understanding non-verbal communication," said Michael C. Seto, PhD, lead author of the study. "Our research suggests that social skills training is not what young sex offenders need most in order to be rehabilitated. Discussing sexuality -- early exposure to sex or pornography, sexual fantasies, and sexual arousal -- would likely get us closer to understanding why the offenses were committed and prevent similar ones from being committed again."

Seto, of the Royal Ottawa Health Care Group, and Martin Lalumiere, PhD, of the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada, conducted a meta-analysis of 59 independent studies comparing a total of 3,855 male adolescent sex offenders with 13,393 male adolescent non-sex offenders between ages 12 and 18. Their research is published in the July issue of Psychological Bulletin, published by the American Psychological Association.
When studies find that sex offenders have a higher rate of sexual abuse victimization than non-offenders many times people believe that a continuing of the cycle of sexual violence is caused by something internal to the survivor, but I believe that the rationalizations given by those who victim blame and deny sexual violence actively reinforces dangerous norms. When victimization is nullified then so too is perpetration.

There is too fine of a line between, "You asked for," and, "It's okay to do to others what someone did to you as long as people would tell them they asked for it." Same goes for "It doesn't count because you never said the word no," and "It won't count as a crime as long as your victims never say no." These fine lines don't widen just because many victim blamers give disclaimers stating that they are against all sexual violence.

We do a disservice to all socially awkward children and adolescents when we allow this stereotype to continue. We also do a disservice to all survivors sexual abuse when we link the abuse itself to the choice to abuse sexually.


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posted by Marcella Chester @ 10:51 AM   3 comments links to this post


At July 20, 2010 6:07 PM, Anonymous m Andrea said...

Excellent, as always. Your blog should be required reading for any professional who deals with crime of a sexual nature.

I'm actually not kidding, you're a very valuable resource. Is there any way to encourage some of the folks who work in rape prevention that they pass your site along to any prosecutors, etc that they come into contact with?

At July 20, 2010 11:49 PM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...

Thanks. Right now word of mouth is the main way those who work in prevention read my blog.

At July 22, 2010 2:29 PM, Anonymous Social Worker said...


I know I'm not your favorite person on here, but I actually have referenced Marcella's blog to a number of people I work with.
Some articles have been the subject of interesting "watercooler" conversations.
If/when I gain another teaching position relevant to the subject, I would definitely reference some of the writings here, with your permission, of course, Marcella.

This study itself is fascinating and I acknowledge that many in the mental health field do fall back on the "well, s/he was abused so we can see how they might do it in turn." It's not viewed as any type of defense/excuse, though. It's more to understand the victim/perpetrator's world in the context of therapy.
It is certainly understood that most victim-survivor's do NOT perpetrate.


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