Victimization in Juvenile Sexual Assault Legislation: A Critical Content Analysis of State Laws in the United States of America

Published date01 April 2024
AuthorAmanda Isabel Osuna,Krystal Garcia,Seth Wyatt Fallik,Taylor Markevitch
Date01 April 2024
Subject MatterOriginal Articles
Youth Justice
2024, Vol. 24(1) 70 –87
© The Author(s) 2023
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/14732254231167339
Victimization in Juvenile Sexual
Assault Legislation: A Critical
Content Analysis of State Laws in
the United States of America
Amanda Isabel Osuna , Krystal Garcia,
Seth Wyatt Fallik and Taylor Markevitch
Although research has been conducted on the risks and effects of juvenile sexual assault, there is a gap in our
knowledge surrounding juvenile sexual assault and how the law discusses victims. The goal of this endeavor
is to provide a systematic summary of juvenile sexual assault statutes in the United States of America. In
pursuit of this objective, a content analysis of the sexual assault and consent state laws of the United States
of America was performed. Four themes emerged, including laws that sought to (1) conceptualize juvenile
sexual assault victimization, (2) offer evidentiary standards in juvenile sexual assault cases, (3) assess the
seriousness and punishment of juvenile sexual assault, and (4) provide services for juveniles who have been
sexually victimized. Within these themes, legislation was inconsistent from one state to another. From these
findings, however, we encourage legislative bodies to offer greater specificity in their laws, re-assess the
seriousness of this phenomenon, and express greater support for victims of child sexual assault.
child, consent, content analysis, juvenile, rape, sexual assault, statutes
According to a national telephone survey of 2293 15-, 16-, and 17-year-olds, nearly 1 in
9 girls and 1 in 53 boys have had direct experience with sexual abuse or had been sexually
assaulted (Finkelhor et al., 2014). Sexual victimization of minors is, unfortunately, a com-
mon finding in the literature. Morgan and Kena (2019) and Snyder (2000) also reported
that an overwhelming majority (61.6%) of rape and sexual assault survivors were under
the age of 18 years at the time of their victimization, while Kilpatrick (2000) found that
nearly a third (29.3%) of survivors were under the age of 11 years. While much has come
Corresponding author:
Amanda Isabel Osuna, Michigan State University, 655 Auditorium Road, East Lansing, MI 48824, USA.
1167339YJJ0010.1177/14732254231167339Youth JusticeOsuna et al.
Original Article
Osuna et al. 71
to be known about the rates of juvenile sexual assault, little is systematically known about
how states have criminalized this phenomenon. This is surprising given the persistent
social science research observing the devastating effects of juvenile sexual assault. To that
end, sexual assault survivors often experience short- and long-term trauma resulting from
sexual victimization. Most rape victims, for example, experience symptoms of post-
traumatic stress disorder, and greater than three-fourths of sexual assault survivors experi-
ence professional and/or emotional issues (Finkelhor et al., 2014; Langton and Truman,
2014; Zinzow et al., 2012). This phenomenological research suggests that our knowledge
gap on juvenile sexual assault legislation comes at a real consequence.
To overcome this issue, this study explores how juvenile sexual assault victimization is
defined and criminalized in American state laws. To accomplish this objective, every
criminal justice statute, from all 50 states, was systematically collected. More than
130,000 state statutes were then Boolean searched to draw our attention onto laws reflect-
ing this topic. Using an indicative coding scheme and a content analysis approach, four
themes emerged from these data. Based on our analyses, we conclude by discussing
the policy implications and areas of future research for juvenile sexual assault. Juvenile
sexual assault in this context refers to sexual assault victimization of persons under the
age of 18 years. Before getting into the data and their implications, however, we begin by
situating this study in the extant literature on juvenile sexual assault laws and present
widely acknowledged federal and state sexual assault legislation. This content broadly
expresses tangential extant literature and policy but highlights the absence of juvenile
sexual assault research and laws focused on victims at federal and state levels. Thereafter,
extra-legal influences in juvenile sexual assault case processing are discussed to put
people at the center of the discussion.
Juvenile sexual assault legal and social science research
Juvenile sexual assault legal research has primarily focused on juvenile sexual offend-
ers and provides insight into various topics, such as assessment, offender registry, the
juvenile justice system, delinquency, and treatments (see, for example, Craun and
Kernsmith, 2006; Groth, 1977; Groth et al., 1981; Ryan, 1987; Sickmund et al., 1997).
Through a review of former, for example, Vizard (2013) found that juvenile who have
committed sexual offenses often require full clinical assessments to determine their
risks and needs. Regarding offender registries, Caldwell and Dickinson (2009) observed,
in a sample of 172 juveniles, that registered juveniles who commit sexual offenses had
lower overall risk assessments but reoffended at a similar rate when compared with
nonregistered juvenile who commit sexual offenses. On delinquency, Hendriks and
Bijleveld (2004), in a sample of 116 male juveniles convicted of sexual offenses,
reported they were more likely to be neurotic, experience social problems, bully others,
and have negative self-views than their non-offending counterparts. Prisco (2015), in an
analysis of family court records, revealed that juvenile who commit sexual offenses are
more receptive to treatments than adults who commit sexual offenses when cases
are managed by boards and multidisciplinary teams. Unfortunately, none of the extant
literature – to our knowledge – explores how victimization or victims are represented in
juvenile sexual assault laws.

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