Sex offenders Foreword In , 1, males and 5, females aged under 15 years were recorded by police as victims of sexual assault but we know from crime victim surveys that sexual assault is the crime least likely to be reported to the police.
We also know from research that adult sex offenders and victims are significantly more likely to have suffered abuse as children. A significant proportion of this abuse occurs within the family by intra-familial offenders.
Interventions that will protect the victim but also break the cycle of reoffending will have a significant positive impact on families. However, there is some research that suggests particular interventions may make matters worse. This paper focuses on the issue of removing the intra-familial adolescent sex offender from the family home and describes an alternative model to relocation being used in Western Australia.
As the paper reports there has been little rigorous evaluation of all types of interventions to determine what works best and under what circumstances. To reaffirm the authors' conclusion, 'urgent evaluation of the efficacy and effectiveness of both community-based and residential treatment programmes for young offenders should be a priority'.
Toni Makkai Director Adolescent sexual offending is increasingly recognised as a serious social issue. While research into adolescent sexual offending has expanded rapidly in recent years, there is comparatively little focus on adolescent sibling incest.
It is estimated that adolescent boys perpetrate percent of child sexual offences, with 40 percent of these offences involving a biological relative. A particular concern is decision-making about the best place for these young people to live while they are undergoing treatment. This paper reviews research and practice in this troubled area and highlights one alternative to removal from the family home. This review demonstrates the value of interdisciplinary studies in social issues and the need for further study.
The risk to the community and the interests of the victim are of paramount concern and take priority over those of the offender. Treatment for adolescent intra-familial sex offenders is frequently made on the proviso that the young person is removed from the home.
For this review, an internet search of all Australian state child welfare departmental policies on child abuse was conducted. In addition, in a national phone survey, key stakeholders of a number of child welfare departments and treatment providers were surveyed. These surveys found that few formal guidelines or policies exist for the placement of intra-familial adolescent sex offenders. Generally, each situation is assessed on a case-by-case basis, with protection of the victim being the main consideration.
Most child welfare agencies appear to hold the view that removal of the adolescent from the family home is the preferable alternative. However, placement of adolescent offenders is largely governed by the availability of suitable options and a lack of suitable placement options was a difficulty mentioned by a number of providers. Risk assessment in adolescent sexual offending If adolescents are left in the family home or reunited with the family after treatment, conducting a comprehensive psychosocial and risk assessment is an essential element of the therapeutic work Prentky et al.
Two approaches have characterised risk assessment in adolescent sexual offenders: Unstructured clinical predictions rely on the integration of clinical information by professionals. Actuarial assessment tools evaluate a series of risk factors according to a structured and objective rating system. They demonstrate a relatively high degree of inter-rater reliability Tomison and out-perform the accuracy of clinical predictions of reoffending risk West However, actuarial measures based on generalisations about cohort behaviour are of limited value when assessing the risk to a particular child and family Tomison Advantages and disadvantages of residential relocation Although residential relocation of the adolescent offender appears to be the preferred option in most Australian treatment facilities, there is a paucity of research investigating the impact of residential relocation on adolescent intra-familial sex offenders, their victims and families, relapse rates, and treatment outcomes.
When an adolescent offence occurs, however, there are two children involved: Once they have offended, the offender loses the status of being a child who needs the protection, guidance, and security of their family. Treatment programs typically last one to two years and this is an extended period of family separation during this formative stage of development. Within Australia, 23 percent of juvenile offenders are only years old and 70 percent are 15 years or younger Griffith University Adolescent Forensic Assessment and Treatment Centre The majority of adolescent sex offenders differ from adult offenders in terms of the aetiology of their offending behaviour.
They rarely experience deviant urges, fantasies or specific targeting of victims, they have fewer fixed patterns of thought and behaviour, and recidivism rates are lower Prentky et al. However, most of the treatment models for adolescent sex offenders are based on established adult programs. One of the obvious advantages of removing the adolescent is the minimisation of the risk of future reoffending.
Not only does this action protect the victim s from further abuse, it also serves to provide some degree of protection to the adolescent offender. Expressions of blame, anger, shame, and disgust directed at the offender can have profound negative psychological effects. Removing the offender from this environment provides not only the offender, but also the rest of the family with breathing space to deal with the offence. There is currently no available research examining the effect on the victim of removing the perpetrator from the family home.
Removing the offender may validate the victim's experience and recovery may be more likely if the victim feels fully supported. Conversely, placing the offending adolescent in alternative accommodation may have a negative impact on the child victim. Full disclosure of the extent of the abuse may be inhibited by the victim's knowledge that their claims will result in the removal of their sibling and breakdown of the family unit.
When the adolescent offender is removed from the home, there may be a number of negative consequences. Primarily, the removal may result in significant disruptions to familial and peer attachments at a time when family support is most needed Bullock ; Cashmore Adolescence is a particularly critical stage of development Witt , Bosley and Hiscox In particular, the influence of parents, family, and peers is crucial in the decisions that adolescents make.
Extended periods in care can erode the adolescent's place in the family home, making it difficult to return and undermining the positive influence that parents can have. Attachment bonds, which are already insecure, are likely to become more fractured. Ryan indicates that 40 to 90 percent of offenders' parents have themselves experienced physical, sexual, or severe emotional abuse or neglect. While removing the offender has the advantage of taking them from that environment, it fails to address the underlying family dynamics that have led to an environment where the abuse occurred.
Families are less likely to be involved in treatment when their adolescent is in residential care Bullock A further problem with relocation is the apparent lack of suitable and stable placement facilities specifically for adolescent sexual offenders. The option of placement of the adolescent offender with relatives is more likely to be used in Australia than other places; this has the possibility of providing stability and some connection to family members Cashmore Such placements are also problematic because the alternative carers are less likely to receive adequate support from government agencies.
Parents are often conflicted about the situation and their desire to protect both the victim and the offender. Placing the offender with another family member and splitting the nuclear family also creates additional financial and emotional pressures.
In general, there is little published research into the efficacy of kinship placements. Further, separating the adolescent from their family may reinforce the adolescent's perception that they are being ostracised for their inappropriate sexual behaviour, fuel a sense of rejection, and increase denial. Implications for treatment The removal of the adolescent from the home also has implications for the treatment provided.
Parents may be less likely to seek assistance if they are aware that disclosing the abuse will result in residential relocation and possible involvement in the justice system. Moreover, the family may receive fewer support services if either child victim or perpetrator is removed from the home. The US National Task Force on Juvenile Sexual Offending recommended that treatment be provided in the least restrictive environment possible, while accounting for community safety.
Placement of adolescents in residential care is costly, often resulting in a decrease in available funds for treatment programs. For some, detention enhances their reputation as 'bad boys' and reinforces patterns of offending behaviours, particularly where it places treatable adolescents in an environment where they may be influenced by more delinquent individuals Hunter et al. This is particularly pertinent for adolescent sex offenders, as research suggests that once an adolescent's offending has been officially identified, the rate of detected sex offending recidivism is relatively low, ranging from seven to 12 percent Rasmussen They are at greater risk of becoming general offenders Caldwell ; Hunter et al.
An alternative model to relocation In Western Australia, the main treatment facility for intra-familial adolescent sex offenders is a community agency, SafeCare.
It is a nongovernment agency, partially funded by a grant from the WA Department for Community Development. SafeCare offers an alternative to automatic residential relocation of the adolescent offender. It is a comprehensive service, offering treatment to the adolescent offender, child victim, parents, and other affected family members.
SafeCare separates case management of the offender and victim s. Treatment may include a group program and individual therapy for the offender, couples counselling, parent-child sessions, and individual therapy for child victims. Although the focus of SYPP is child protection, an adolescent responsible for abuse is not automatically removed from the family home. The whole family meets with a clinician during a six-week assessment phase. A risk analysis of the home situation and the adolescent is undertaken.
This means that the adolescent's risk of reoffending is judged in the context of the strengths of the family in relation to future provision of safety for the victim.
The following factors are used to determine the risk of reoffending: In addition, the adolescent is individually assessed, using a clinical interview and a series of psychometric measures to assess cognitive distortions, sexual knowledge, personality, psychopathology, and family relationships.
If the clinical team and the parents decide that the adolescent can remain at home during treatment, protective measures to ensure the safety of any children from risk of abuse are instituted. Part of the task is to assist parents to be fully responsive to the needs of the victim.
The child victim is taught that reporting such behaviour is a positive action and that parents and therapists want to know if any future inappropriate sexual behaviour occurs. Parents are taught to minimise opportunities for inappropriate sexual behaviour by providing other more rewarding activities e.
Knowing exactly where, when, and how the abuse occurred allows new family rules to be set, for example not allowing the adolescent to: One of the primary advantages of a comprehensive treatment program for the whole family is that the agency is in contact with both parents and the child victim and this makes it highly likely that any subsequent offending would be reported to therapists.
Although uncommon, it may be necessary to remove the young person responsible for the abuse from the family home. Any known breach of the contract by either the adolescent or parents, which places a child at risk, may be reported to the Department of Community Development. Any acts of child sexual abuse during treatment are immediately reported. Of those who were removed from the family home, 15 percent were relocated by state agencies, generally prior to treatment.
Some families had already voluntarily relocated their adolescent to another family member before seeking treatment.
This model addresses many of the problems in adolescent sex offender treatment. It utilises a comprehensive six-week assessment period aimed at minimising recidivism by targeting general and idiosyncratic risk, strength, and safety factors for the individual and their family.
This allows the most appropriate choice to be made for each offender, incorporating the context of both offending behaviour and family. Conclusions and recommendations This review has tackled the hard question of residential relocation for adolescent intra-familial sex offenders, overviewed current practice, and described an alternative model.
It posits that there are at least two children involved in intra-familial sex abuse and that while protection of the victim must be the first priority, the offender's developmental needs must also be taken into account. Given that the majority of offenders are younger than 15, that attachment bonds in many of these families are already strained, and that treatment takes months, it challenges the assumption that relocation of the adolescent is automatically the best alternative.
It is hoped that this will open the way for further debate and much needed policy formulation in this difficult area. It is suggested that the assessment of adolescent offenders remains ill-informed and unsupported by clinical data.