What makes a difference? Evaluating the key distinctions and predictors of sexual and non-sexual offending among male and female juvenile offenders

Date02 May 2017
Published date02 May 2017
AuthorBryanna Fox
Subject MatterHealth & social care,Criminology & forensic psychology,Criminal psychology,Sociology,Sociology of crime & law,Deviant behaviour,Public policy & environmental management,Policing,Criminal justice
What makes a difference? Evaluating the
key distinctions and predictors of sexual
and non-sexual offending among male
and female juvenile offenders
Bryanna Fox
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to evaluate the ability of a comprehensive set of covariates to
distinguish and predict juvenile sex offenders (JSOs) from non-sexual juvenile offenders (NSJOs) using
demographic traits, criminality covariates, childhood trauma, and psychopathologies in a sample of male and
female juvenile offenders in the USA.
Design/methodology/approach A multivariate binary logistic regression will be conducted on a total of
64,329 juvenile offenders in Florida to determine what demographic, criminal history, childhood traumas, and
psychopathologies make a difference in identifying sexual and NSJOs while controlling for the other key
predictors in the model.
Findings Results indicate that having an earlier age of criminal onset and more felony arrests, experiencing
sexual abuse or being male, having low empathy, high impulsivity, depression, and psychosis all significantly
increase the risk of sexual vs non-sexual offending among the male and female juvenile offenders, even while
controlling for all other key covariates in the analysis.
Originality/value This study uncovered many new findings regarding the key distinguishing traits
of juvenile sex offending vs non-sexual offending, using a comprehensive list of predictors, a large sample of
male and female offenders, and a rigorous statistical methodology.
Keywords Abuse, Psychopathology, Childhood trauma, Criminal psychology,
Developmental and life-course criminology, Juvenile sex offenders
Paper type Research paper
It is an unfortunate fact that juvenile sex offenders (JSOs) comprise a substantial, but often
overlooked, proportion of the sexual offenders in the USA. According to the Federal Bureau of
Investigation (2014), JSOs consistently account for 15-20 percent of all sex crime arrests across
the country. Moreover, offenders under age 18 are responsible for 20 percent of all rapes,
50 percent of all child sexual abuse, and 33 percent of all sex crimes against other juveniles
(Barbaree et al., 1993). Without proper and effective treatment, it is estimated that the average
JSO may commit 380 sex crimes during his or her lifetime (Becker and Abel, 1985).
However, developing successful treatments has proven challenging, particularly as JSOs have
been shown to be a heterogeneous group encompassing a multitude of unique personalities,
psychopathologies, criminal behaviors, demographic traits, and childhood traumas (Calley,
2007; Gordon and Porporino, 1990; Hunter et al., 2000; Rice and Harris, 1997; Robertiello and
Terry, 2007; Seto and Lalumière, 2010; Worling, 2001). Additionally, many of these risk factors
for sexual offending often overlap with general delinquency, making it even more difficult to
develop the most effective treatments for young sex offenders. This fact appears to be of
growing concern to psychologists and criminologists, as Zakireh et al. (2008) noted, few studies
Received 21 December 2016
Revised 31 December 2016
Accepted 4 January 2017
The author would like to thank the
Florida Department of Juvenile
Justice (FDJJ) for the continued
support and opportunity to
work together on research aimed
at helping young people achieve a
safe, healthy, and prosperous
future. Thank you to Nathan
Epps of the FDJJ for his fantastic
insights and advice in preparation
of this manuscript, as well as the
anonymous reviewers for their
thoughtful and beneficial
suggestions on a prior draft of
this article.
Bryanna Fox is an Assistant
Professor at the Department of
Criminology, University of
South Florida, Tampa, Florida,
USA and Department of Mental
Health Law & Policy, College of
Behavioral & Community
Sciences, University of South
Florida, Tampa, Florida, USA.
VOL. 7 NO. 2 2017, pp. 134-150, © Emerald Publishing Limited, ISSN 2009-3829 DOI 10.1108/JCP-12-2016-0047
have included appropriate comparison groups (e.g. juvenile offenders who have not committed
sexual crimes). Without such control groups, it is difficult to determine whether observed results
are linked with sexual offending in particular or with delinquency in general(p. 324).
In Seto and Lalumières (2010) meta-analysis of 59 studies which were able to compare key traits
of male adolescent sexual and non-sexual offenders, they found that while there are many
similarities between sexual and non-sexual juvenile offending, using a single set of measures to
explain all forms of offending is insufficient. In other words, it appears that JSOs have a distinct set
of predicate causes and correlates of their behavior which require a unique set of predictors, and
ultimately responses, compared to general delinquents.
Seto and Lalumières meta-analysisspecifically examinedthe youthsage of criminal onset,criminal
history,conduct problems, anti-socialtendencies, substanceabuse, childhood abuse,exposure to
household violence and substance abuse, interpersonal problems, sexuality, psychopathology,
cognitive abilities, and impression management and the ability to use these factors to distinguish
sex offenders from general offenders. Results indicate that male JSOs commit fewer criminal
offenses, had fewer anti-social peers, less conduct problems, more atypical sexual interests,
experiencedmore sexual and physical abuse,lower levels of substance abuse,and higher levels of
psychopathologies including generalanxiety, social anxiety, and low self-esteemcompared to the
non-sexual offenders (Seto and Lalumière,2010). No statistically significantdifferences were found
between the sexual and non-sexual juvenile offenders (NSJs) for age of criminal onset, impulsivity,
grandiosity, callousness/lack of empathy, exposure to household violence, household substance
abuse, depression, psychosis, and suicidal tendencies (Seto and Lalumière, 2010).
While Seto and Lalumières meta-analysis was highly informative on the state of the field, and
identified important paths forward for future research, there are several considerable limitations
of the studies within the analysis that must be noted. First, no studies included all, or even most,
of the measures identified as the key predictors of juvenile sex offending, meaning it was not
possible to control for other measuresinfluence. Specifically, less than half of the 59 studies
included any type of psychopathology in their analyses, and most (14 of 23) included just one
type of psychopathology (i.e. anxiety, depression, psychosis, etc.). Only nine of 59 studies in the
meta-analysis included more than one psychopathology in their analyses. Similarly, just nine out
of 59 studies included age of criminal onset in their analyses, while just 17 of the 59 studies
controlled for the offenderscriminal histories. In short, as most studies aiming to identify the
unique features of juvenile sex offending tend to only include a small number of critical measures
and potentially exclude key predictors or control variables in their analyses, the need to utilize a
comprehensive set of predictor variables is highlighted for future research.
Furthermore, the vast majority of studies in the meta-analysis drew their findings from exceedingly
small sample sizes, as 46 out of the 59 studies had fewer than 60 in their sample of JSOs. Due to
the heterogeneity of JSOs, such small samples can pose a significant problem with regard to the
studys internal and external validity (Worling, 2001). Finally, as the meta-analysis was based
upon studies conducted entirely on male offenders, any potential variations brought to light by
evaluating female offenders are impossible.
Consequently, a study evaluating the key features of JSOs using a comprehensive list of
measures, a large sample of both JSOs and non-sexual offenders, and both male and female
offenders is clearly needed. Therefore, the goal of the present research is to address these needs
by evaluating the ability to distinguish between JSOs and non-sexual offenders based upon their
criminal history features, demographic traits, negative childhood experiences, and multiple
psychopathologies, using a sample of 64,329 male and female juvenile offenders in Florida.
The data used in this study consist of the full population of juveniles referred to the Florida
Department of Juvenile Justice (FDJJ) that turned age 18 between January 1, 2007 and
December 31, 2012. This cohort consists of a total of 64,329 unique juvenile offenders. JSOs
were defined as any juvenile referred to FDJJ for a misdemeanor or felony classified as a sexual
VOL. 7 NO. 2 2017

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT