Reference Work Entry

Handbook of Clinical Psychology Competencies

pp 1541-1562

Adolescent Sexual Offending

  • Barry R. BurkhartAffiliated withAuburn University
  • , Patrick K. CookAffiliated withAuburn University


Adolescents who sexually offend present difficult and complicated demands for clinicians. The gravity of sex offending cannot be ignored, however, because adolescent offending does not necessarily presage adult offending, intervention must not preclude normal developmental opportunities. However, most adult persistent offenders begin offending during adolescence. Thus, clinicians have to provide effective treatment for the potentially serious adult offender while preventing negative second order effects that might create iatrogenic developmental consequences. The essential conclusions about the etiology of juvenile sex offending are that the processes are multi-factorial, complex and developmentally organized. Based on this analysis, assessment of the individual adolescent is critical to establishing an articulated treatment plan and five domains are identified as critical areas for the clinical picture. These are: (1) offender’s victimization and abuse history; (2) social skills deficits, social isolation, and attachment difficulties; (3) deviant sex arousal and/or sexual preoccupation; (4) aggression and general delinquency; and (5) an exaggeration of “normal” adolescent sexual curiosity or exploration in a context of opportunism and weak supervision. Given the complexity of developmental pathways, no single model for intervention provides a sufficiently comprehensive approach for the treatment for juvenile sex offenders. Instead, treatment should be organized by a risk-need-responsivity paradigm that provides a useful algorithm for clinical treatment formulation. Additionally, the intervention must eventuate in the development of a non-stigmatized identity for the developing adolescent. Based on the notion that a risk-need-responsivity analysis should inform treatment, clinicians need to have a strong grasp of developmentally sensitive assessment, competency in navigating the social and legal contexts in which adolescent offenders are found, and be able to serve as a social and legal advocate based on a solid understanding of the empirical findings about adolescents who have sexually offended.