Skip Navigation

Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse

Keyword: research

The Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health is looking for two volunteers to tell us about their experiences dealing with child sexual abuse perpetrated by an older child or teen. Male voices are especially needed. Volunteers must be at least 18 years old.

Brief interviews will be conducted by Moore Center Director Dr. Elizabeth Letourneau and will be used to help the research team develop a child sexual abuse prevention intervention.

Interviews will be conducted by phone, recorded and edited. To protect our volunteers’ identity, actors will re-enact the audio. Interviewees will be asked to review and approve content before we publish it. Audio files will be used on our website and in our prevention modules.

Interviews need to be completed by Friday, April 6. Contact Stephanie Neal at stephanieneal@jhu.edu for questions and to schedule an interview.

CHILDREN ON SEX OFFENDER REGISTRIES AT GREATER RISK FOR SUICIDE ATTEMPTS, STUDY SUGGESTS

--Other risks include sexual assault, being approached by an adult for sex and mental health problems

A new study led by researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that children who were legally required to register as sex offenders were at greater risk for harm, including suicide attempts and sexual assault, compared to a group of children who engaged in harmful or illegal sexual behavior but who were not required to register.

The most troubling findings, the authors say, pertained to suicidal intent and victimization experiences. The study found that registered children were four times as likely to report a recent suicide attempt in the last 30 days, compared to nonregistered children. Registered children were nearly twice as likely to have experienced a sexual assault and were five times as likely to have been approached by an adult for sex in the past year. Registered children also reported higher rates of other mental health problems, more peer relationship problems, more experiences with peer violence and a lower sense of safety.

The findings, which were published online last week in the journal Psychology, Public Policy and Law, highlight the consequences of placing children on sex offender registries.

“The process of subjecting children to sex offender registration and notification requirements not only conveys to the child that he or she is worthless, it also essentially alerts the rest of the world that a child has engaged in an illegal sexual behavior,” says study lead Elizabeth Letourneau, PhD, a professor in the Bloomberg School’s Department of Mental Health and director of the Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse. “Not only is this policy stigmatizing and distressing, but it may make children vulnerable to unscrupulous or predatory adults who use the information to target registered children for sexual assault.”

Thirty-eight states subject children under age 18 to sex offender registration for offenses adjudicated in juvenile court while all states subject children to sex offender registration for offenses adjudicated in adult court (i.e., when children are waived to criminal court). This practice has been controversial from its beginnings in the mid-1990s due to concerns about the stigmatizing effects of labeling children—often for life—as “sex offenders.”

For the study, the researchers surveyed 256 children ages 12 to 17 across 18 states who had received treatment services for engaging in harmful and/or illegal sexual behaviors. Of these, 74 had been required to register as sexual offenders and/or subjected to public notification in which law enforcement alerted others to the child’s status as a registered offender. Some children were even included on public sex offender registry websites. Five girls were included in the sample, although analyses were ultimately reported only for the 251 boys. Compared to nonregistered children in this study, registered children had worse outcomes on measures assessing mental health problems, peer relationships, safety and exposure to sexual and nonsexual violence.

To identify registered and nonregistered children for this study, researchers obtained referrals from frontline practitioners (e.g., psychologists, counselors, social workers) who treat children for problem sexual behaviors. Children completed surveys by phone, on hard copies or on computers and steps were taken to assure confidentiality. Most of the children identified as male (98 percent) and were on average 15 years old. Half were white, more than one-quarter were African American and 18 percent identified as Hispanic. Most participants, 86 percent, identified as heterosexual.

“Policymakers have argued that if sex offender registration improves community safety it is worth the costs associated with it, which begs the question, does registrations work? Does it make communities safer? The answer is a resounding no,” says Letourneau. “On top of that, our study suggests that these requirements may place children at risk of the very type of abuse the policy seeks to prevent, among other serious negative consequences. Our hope is that this study will convince even more policymakers that the time has come to abandon juvenile registration.”.

Previous research by Letourneau and others demonstrates that less than three percent of children adjudicated for a sexual offense go on to commit another. However, despite numerous studies, including this one, that have evaluated the effects of sex offender registration and notification policies, none have found any evidence that suggests that such policies prevent sexual abuse and assault or make communities safer and, in fact, the results from this study suggest that these policies may be harmful to children.

Previous research has examined the unintended effects of sex offender registration and notification on adults. This is the first study to look at the effects of registration policies on children.

“Effects of juvenile sex offender registration on child well-being: An empirical examination” was written by Elizabeth J. Letourneau, PhD; Andrew Harris, PhD; Ryan Shields, PhD; Scott Walfield, PhD; Geoff Kahn, MSPH; Amanda Ruzicka, MA; and Cierra Buckman, MHS.

The research was funded by the Open Society Foundation, the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse.

Media contacts:
Johns Hopkins Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse: Stephanie Neal at 443-839-0478 or stephanieneal@jhu.edu.
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: Barbara Benham at 410-614-6029 or bbenham1@jhu.edu.

# # #

Headlines about child sexual abuse prevention, research and policy from around the country

World Congress Child Dignity

Last week Dr. Letourneau, along with other researchers in the field of child sexual abuse prevention, attended this event held in Vatican City and convened by the Gregorian University's Center for Child Protection.

Dallas County’s Sex Offender Program is Letting Teens Down

State watchdog group issues report that details horrific negligence in the Dallas County Juvenile Department.

Halloween sex offender hysteria is starting early this year (see the long list of Patch.com’s sex offender maps)

  • Moore Prevention News: The Biggest Danger to Kids on Halloween is Drivers, not Sex Offenders.  Dr. Letourneau’s study looked at whether more sex offenses occur on Halloween night. The study found that there is no significant risk for child sexual abuse. The greatest risk to children on Halloween night is getting hurt by drivers who may not be able to see them in the dark.

Michigan’s Sex Offender Registry Needs Reform

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s ruling that the state cannot apply the sex offender registry laws to people retroactively. Michigan will have to revise the registry.

California Sex Offender Registry Laws to Change

Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law that could purge 90 percent of the names off the state’s lifetime registry for sex offenders.

Colorado Lawmakers May Change Sex Offender Registry 

Lawmakers are reconsidering the fairness of the state’s sex offender laws

In November 2016, Moore Center staff attended the 35th Annual Research and Treatment Conference sponsored by the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA) in Orlando. The focus this year was “Different Roles, Same Goals: Preventing Sexual Abuse.”

The Moore Center research team presented current projects to researchers, scholars, treatment providers, advocates and other ATSA members. Below is a quick recap of those presentations:

Moving the Field: Developments in the Assessment, Treatment, and Prevention of Sexual Abuse by R. Karl Hanson, Mark E. Oliver and Elizabeth J. Letourneau

  • Speakers presented the argument that child sexual abuse is a preventable public health problem and maintained that focusing on prevention of youth-perpetrated sexual harm is a worthwhile and feasible endeavor.

Help Wanted Project: Addressing Needs of Adolescents Sexually Attracted to Children by Ryan T. Shields and Amanda Ruzicka

  • Speakers presented a general description of the interview subjects (individuals with a sexual interest in children, but who have not acted on their attraction) and common themes.
  • Subjects reported attempting to seek help but were unable to find any.
  • They also reported that their main struggle was not refraining from acting on their attraction, but rather with figuring out how to cope with such an attraction and how to live a happy and healthy life.

Impact of Sex Crime Policies on Youth and Their Families by Geoffrey Kahn and Cierra Buckman

  • Key findings from this study include that youth who are required to register as sex offenders are four times more likely to have attempted suicide in the past 30 days and are three times more likely to be approached by an adult for sex than youth who do not have to register. 
  • Caregivers of youth who are required to register experience an increased average number of negative consequences than those who are not required to register. 

ATSA’s mission is dedicated to preventing sexual abuse through research, education and shared learning and the effective management of individuals who have sexually abused or who are at risk of doing so. The annual conferences attract around 1400 attendees and have hundreds of speakers.

Help Wanted PinkWhile we’ve made tremendous progress recruiting participants for our Help Wanted study, we still need 10 more contributors to meet our goal. Participants must be 18 to 30 years old, fluent in English and developed an attraction to prepubescent children during or prior to adolescence. The ultimate goal of Help Wanted is to develop and provide helpful resources to adolescents attracted to young children. 

After we complete the anonymous interview process, we will analyze and summarize themes from the interviews and discuss how these themes will influence the development of a prevention intervention, one that is available to all youth with a sexual attraction to younger children. The prevention intervention will address the needs of adolescents attracted to children and promote their healthy development. We’ll also ensure that all materials destigmatize the act of asking for help. 

For more information about the project, see our recent blog post.

If you or someone you know is eligible to participate, please click here or contact our research team directly at MooreCenter.JHSPH@gmail.com.