Treating Sexually Harmful Teenage Males: A Summary of Longitudinal Research Findings on the Effectiveness of a Therapeutic Community

Publication Date01 May 2016
The Howard Journal Vol55 No 1–2. May 2016 DOI: 10.1111/hojo.12165
ISSN 2059-1098, pp. 168–187
Treating Sexually Harmful Teenage
Males: A Summary of Longitudinal
Research Findings on the
Effectiveness of a Therapeutic
Gwyneth Boswell is Director, Boswell Research Fellows and Visiting Professor,
School of Health Sciences, University of East Anglia; Peter Wedge is Emeritus
Professor, Faculty of Medicine & Health Sciences, University of East Anglia;
Annie Moseley is Senior Research Fellow, Boswell Research Fellows;
Jane Dominey is Senior Research Fellow, Boswell Research Fellows and
Institute of Criminology, University of Cambridge; Fiona Poland is Professor
of Social Research Methodology, School of Health Sciences, University of
East Anglia
Abstract: This twelve-year study evaluated the effectiveness of a therapeutic community
for young men who had been abused in a range of ways, and had themselves become
sexually harmful, usually to children. Each young man was interviewed on arrival at the
community, at their departuretwo years later, and thereafter atone-year intervals. Annual
findings were relayed to the community on an action researchbasis, with recommendations
such as an extended ex-resident outreach service, being implemented. ‘Before and after’
checklists revealed significant reductions in factors such as self-harm, suicidal thoughts
and depression by the end of their stay in the community. Coping mechanisms, which
they had acquired as residents, allowed the majority to manage post-leaving challenges
including housing, employment, and family relations. Ministry of Justice re/conviction
rates proved to be low as against those of a comparison group.
Keywords: sexually harmful; teenage males; therapeutic community; longitu-
dinal research
The study summarised here focused upon Glebe House, an independent
children’s home, run by a Quaker charitable trust, and registered with
the Department of Health. It has operated as a therapeutic community
since 1969. In the early 1990s the trustees and staff took the decision to
2016 The Howard League and John Wiley & Sons Ltd
Published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK
The Howard Journal Vol55 No 1–2. May 2016
ISSN 2059-1098, pp. 168–187
specialise exclusively in the group they felt no-one else wanted – known
male perpetrators of sexual abuse in late adolescence.
In 1998, the trustees commissioned the research team to conduct a pilot
study to investigate the feasibility of following up a group of ex-residents.
The purpose of this was to find out how they had fared both in terms of
reduction of their abusive behaviour and of their quality of life (Boswell
and Wedge 2002, 2003). As a consequence, the trustees commissioned a
substantive research project to run over a period of ten years, so that the
lifestyle paths of as many young men as possible could be tracked. Impor-
tantly, also, any re/conviction rates could be obtained after a meaningful
period – that is to say by at least two years and, for the earliest leavers, up to
ten years after they had left Glebe House. It was also agreed to incorporate
an action research element into the project, so that the Community could
act in the interim period on pointers provided in the team’s annual report
to the trustees.
It is upon the basis and rationale described above that the research
recounted in this article was founded (see, also, Boswell et al. 2014). The
following sections set out the structure and main findings of this longitu-
dinal study and consider the implications of the findings for the Commu-
nity’s work with abused and abusing adolescents, for those who fund such
placements, and for the protection of the wider public.
Research Context
Sexual abuse has been defined as any sexual interaction with person(s) of
any age that is perpetrated: (i) against the victim’s will; (ii) without consent;
or (iii) in an aggressive, exploitative, manipulative or threatening manner
(Ryan 1997). Where such abuse is perpetrated against a child, however,
the capacity to consent is clearly not present. This kind of abuse, thus,
‘involves forcing or enticing a child or young person to take part in sexual
activities, not necessarily involving a high level of violence, whether or
not the child is aware of what is happening’ (Department for Education
2013, p.86). Glebe House’s residents have committed abusive acts/offences
against children, the majority have themselves been abused in some way,
and most are themselves children (that is, under the age of 18 years) when
they arrive at the Community. Presumably in recognition of their own
victimhood, just over half of the residents in this study were placed there
under the Children Act 1989 under a full care order (Section 31) or under
an accommodation requirement (Section 20). The remainder arrived via
the courts on a community rehabilitation order (since replaced by the
youth rehabilitation order) with a residence requirement.
In the mid-1990s, when this longitudinal study was piloted, the knowl-
edge base about sexual abuse by children and young people was limited;
any discussion of the aetiology and treatment of adolescent abusers was
generally derived from findings relating to adult male abusers. The pilot
study produced a companion review of the relevant research and liter-
ature of the foregoing two decades (Boswell and Wedge 2002). An ear-
lier UK research review (Vizard, Monck and Misch 1995) had confirmed
2016 The Howard League and John Wiley & Sons Ltd

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