Lately, there have been a lot of news stories about kids committing “sex crimes.” In Pikesville, MD, a middle school boy was charged with assault for kissing a fellow student on a dare. Another headline-grabbing news story was the North Carolina high school student who was charged with sexual exploitation for taking nude pictures… of himself.
A criminal justice response isn’t necessarily the best course of action to take with youth who have acted like the kids mentioned above, and besides, once a crime has been committed, the harm has already occurred. At the Moore Center, we know that the best way to end child sexual abuse is to prevent it through evidence-based, primary prevention programs aimed at potential perpetrators while also making parents and guardians better equipped to keep kids safe.
Below are some quick facts about youth charged with sex offenses.
Research suggests that about half of child sexual abuse cases are perpetrated by juveniles under 18, and these offenses occur for a variety of reasons.
The efficacy of sex offender registration and notification policies is questionable. Of 14 recent studies examining policy effects on violent and/or sexual recidivism, 10 reported no significant effects, two reported reduced sexual and violent recidivism that may be attributable to policy effects and one reported an increase in sexual recidivism. (Sex Offender Registration and Notification Policy Increases Juvenile Plea Bargains. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment. 2012. Elizabeth J. Letourneau, et al. Sage Publishing).
We don’t yet know the consequences of placing youth offenders on the sex offender registry, but we’re currently researching this.
Preliminary findings suggest that registration and public notification polices may be associated with mental health problems and may disrupt school experiences and social relationships – all risk factors that increase the likelihood of future criminal activity.
Family members, including caregivers and siblings, may also face a range of collateral consequences including harassment and compassion fatigue.
Once our research project studying the effects of placing youth offenders on the sex offender registry concludes, will have additional information to add to the list above. In the meantime, see an interview with Dr. Ryan T. Shields, assistant scientist at the Moore Center, on Fox 45 Baltimore speaking about the criminal response to the Pikesville middle school boy’s assault charges.