Adolescent Sexual Offenders - Youth Justice System

Adolescent Sexual Offenders - Youth Justice System

The issue of adolescent sexual offenders is an important topic within the youth justice system. It is worthy of research and discussion for anyone wishing to get involved with the youth justice system because of the seriousness of the offences committed, and the impact on both the victim and offenders. This essay will examine recent data on this topic, the relationship between adolescent sexual offenders and the youth justice system, the promising practices used to help treat these adolescent sexual offenders, and provide a discussion on why this topic should be discussed within Community Justice Programs.

This section of the essay will examine recent data and important information relating to adolescent sexual offenders. It will provide a definition of what an adolescent sexual offender is, the characteristics of these people and, the victims of these young offenders. Relevant data regarding offences committed by adolescent sexual offenders will be provided to show the extent of the problem. How the justice system currently deals with these adolescent sexual offenders compared to adult offenders will be reviewed, as well as present day measures to help prevent sexual abuse. All of this will help demonstrate why adolescent sexual offences are a serious crime and an important issue for Community Justice Programs.

The definition of an adolescent sexual offender is a person between the ages of 12 and 17 that commits a sexual act against the will and without consent of the victim, or commits a sexual act in an aggressive, exploitive or threatening manner, regardless of the victims age (Health Canada, 1990). This definition is important because it does not say how serious of an act is required for it to be considered an offence. It is also interesting to see how the age of the victim is not important to the definition. This prevents the offender from being able to say they were just being curious or exploring their sexuality with the victim.

There is not a standard profile or background of who an adolescent sexual offender is. Research has shown that many adolescent sexual offenders come from all different economic classes, have different levels of intelligence, and do not always share a common race or religion (Health Canada, 1990). One important issue to look at to determine who may abuse someone is by observing an individuals childhood to see if they had been abused physically or sexually or perhaps neglected. One third of all adolescent sexual offenders were neglected during childhood, and of these 60 percent were physically abused and 50 percent were sexually abused (Health Canada, 1990).

By using the definition of what an adolescent sexual offender is the essay will now look at statistics regarding these offences to demonstrate why this is a major issue that should be studied within Community Justice Programs. Approximately 20 to 30 percent of sexual offences committed in Canada are done by adolescent sexual offenders. In 1999 21% of those charged for a sexual offence were an adolescent. (Child Abuse Effects, 2011). This number is approximately the same when all of North America is examined showing that this problem does not only occur in Canada (Child Abuse Effects, 2011). In many cases the abuser is known by the victim and is a family member, baby sitter, friend or neighbour. The complete problem of adolescent sexual assault is not accurately known because many cases of sexual assault go unreported. Some estimates say only 1 in 10 cases are officially reported and fewer than this are formally reported by the police (Brennan, 2008. p. 6). These statistics should alarm people and be of interest to those studying Community Justice Programs.

In today’s society prevention must play a role in attempting to stop abuse by adolescent sexual offenders. There are two types of prevention that must occur for this to be effective and help prevent future occurrences. The first is in education of young children. It is important to teach young children that it is inappropriate for their peers or anyone else to touch them in a sexual manner or in anyway that makes them feel uncomfortable. It is important that they report this activity, as many cases go unreported, to prevent and stop future abuses. It is important for the victims to feel comfortable enough to speak about these issues and this is done through proper communication. (Kobbe, n.d.) This may seem like common sense, however, in many cases the victim may not even understand that this type of abuse can occur. This provides an example of why it is crucial to have strong sexual education programs in schools that teach a positive understanding of sex with emphasis on the consequences of sex, the importance of consent and ways to prevent internet luring.

The second type of prevention is to ensure that adolescent sexual offenders do not repeat their previous actions. This is done through the use of the justice system and social programs that are in place for sexual adolescent offenders. These programs can keep offenders away from situations where they may have an opportunity to commit future crimes, provide education and social services to help the offender rehabilitate. Proper training of officials such as social workers, psychologists, police officers and the courts will help identify adolescent sexual offenders and allow people to judge the likelihood a person may commit future assaults. (Health Canada, 1990)

The importance of prevention has been shown by examining two types of prevention. This would be important for someone studying Community Justice Programs because it shows steps can be taken to reduce the chance of an adolescent sexual offender assaulting someone. It has also been shown that adolescent sexual offenders are a significant issue in society and this issue needs to be studied. The impacts on victims can be drastic, and it is important for those involved in community justice to continue to improve on what can be done about this issue.

The essay will now look at the links between adolescent sexual offenders and the youth justice system. This will be done by looking at the laws in Canada that apply to adolescent sexual offenders in Canada, the way the courts in Canada deal with these offenders, and how the public perceives the way in which these offenders are dealt with by the justice system. This will show that the criminal justice system is directly linked to youth offenders, and will demonstrate why this is important to Community Justice Programs.

On April 1st 2003 the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) became law in Canada. This act laid out how youth criminal offenders in Canada would be dealt with, including adolescent sexual offenders. The goal of the act was to take into account development issues faced by youth offenders, focus on the root causes as to why the crimes were committed, all while ensuring the victims rights were taken into account through “meaningful consequences” while providing the offender with a chance at rehabilitation (Department of Justice, 2011). The overall goal was to prevent crime while understanding that young people have special needs, and should be given the chance to rehabilitate.

The YCJA tries to divert young people from prison sentences for less serious offences but requires adult sentences for more serious crimes including aggravated sexual assault for those who are 16 or 17 years old. This is important to note because there are 3 levels of charges an adolescent sexual offender can be charged with. (sexual assault, sexual assault with a weapon, and aggravated sexual assault) Depending on which level of assault they are charged with the severity of their punishment and rehabilitation options will be different. (Brennan, 2008. p. 11) This is important to people in Community Justice Programs because it explains how the law can dictate potential outcomes when studying the issue of adolescent sexual offenders. The courts in Canada play an important role in the youth justice system. The courts implement the policies and goals of the YCJA. Studies of court decisions relating to adolescent sexual offenders have determined the most important factors when deciding if prison time is warranted is the seriousness of the offence, the victims age, and the past criminal behaviour of the guilty offender. Rehabilitative and therapeutic processes are then looked at to determine if this will prevent future assaults from occurring. A balance between the two is reached and this will determine the justice systems course of action for the offender. (Roberts, 2005. p. 371) This is important when trying to understand the processes of community justice, and will help researchers provide better programs to those who can stop offending, and allow for better policies for offenders who may need to be separated from society. Current programs in place will be looked at later in the essay.

Another important factor when looking at adolescent sexual offenders and the youth justice system is the public perception of this process. In Canada research has shown 77 percent of Canadians believe youth sentencing may be too relaxed and these adolescent sexual offenders should be given harsher penalties. (Bouhours, 2007. p. 214) At the same time there is public support for alternative measures including promising practices and interventions. (Bouhours, 2007, p. 228) Anyone involved in Community Justice Programs would need to take these issues under consideration when looking at youth justice and adolescent sexual offenders to see there is a need to balance public interests with the individual interests of the offender.

One of the major goals of the youth justice system is rehabilitation. This makes it important to have programs in place to help adolescent sexual offenders change the way they behave towards other people in society. From a community justice perspective it is important to ensure these people do not continue their behaviour for the safety of society, and to help the offender integrate back into society. There are two types of intervention when dealing with adolescent sexual offenders currently used today. These are individual therapy, and multi systemic therapy.

Individual therapy believes that adolescent sexual offenders have committed their crimes because of behavioural and psychological problems with the individual. This therapy focuses on offering support and positive feed back to encourage the individual to change their behaviour. (Borduin, 1990. p. 110) This therapy attempts to provide insight that encourages the offender to think about creating good relationships and encouraging beneficial individual behaviour. The responsibility to rehabilitate is placed solely on the individual.

Multi systemic therapy believes that the adolescent sexual offender has committed their crime for a variety of reasons and attempts to correct all of these problems. It deals with mental issues and encourages the offender to accept the harm of their actions, while feeling empathy for the victim. It looks at the family situation and attempts to promote family structure and understands that parental supervision plays a role in rehabilitation. A focus on peer relations encourages the development of healthy age appropriate relations with peers of both sexes. This will allow the offender to better integrate back into society. (Borduin, 1990. p. 109) Even today this multi system approach is still used as the best way to try and rehabilitate adolescent sexual offenders. It attempts to deal with the multiple issues that may lead to adolescent sexual offences. This process uses intervention strategies at the home, school and in the community, along with specific therapeutic approaches to deal with behavioural problems leading to criminal behaviour. It creates a network of support to help the individual become a productive member or society. (MST Services, 2006)

A case study comparing individual therapy to multi system therapy observed that recidivism among adolescent sexual offenders who received individual therapy was 75 percent. In contrast the recidivism rate among offenders who received multi system therapy was much less at 12.5 percent.(Borduin, 1990) This would be important for someone in a Community Justice Program studying the best methods of preventing recidivism among adolescent sexual offenders, and shows that the issue is not solely caused by the individual and many factors may contribute to this behaviour.

This essay will conclude by demonstrating how the topics discussed relating to adolescent sexual offenders are important to Community Justice Programs, and why it is an important to discuss this issue when studying community justice. This essay defined an adolescent sexual offender as “an adolescent sexual offender is a person between the ages of 12 and 17 that commits a sexual act against the will and without consent of the victim, or commits a sexual act in an aggressive, exploitive or threatening manner. Regardless of the victims age.” This is important to remember because it was shown that 20 percent of all sexual assaults in Canada are committed by people who meet this definition. To better understand sexual assaults from a Community Justice perspective you could not ignore the significance of these statistics. It would also be important to understand who these people are, and the factors that contribute to their behaviour. This paper demonstrated how these people do not come from one group of people, but past experiences of the adolescent sexual offender may contribute to their behaviour. This is important for Community Justice programs to understand why these crimes occur.
This paper also examined the links between adolescent sexual offenders and the role of youth justice in Canada. This was done by examining the YCJA and the role of the courts. This is important for Community Justice Programs because it demonstrates how the legal system attempts to protect victims while rehabilitating the offenders. It shows that the youth justice system has a role to play in dealing with the problem of adolescent sexual offenders.
Finally this paper discussed promising treatments like the multi systemic therapy approach and compared it to less successful approaches like the individual therapy. This was important for Community Justice Programs because it explained how these offenders are dealt with after they have gone through the youth justice system. It also demonstrates that this issue is complex, and the problem may have to be addressed by looking at many issues as to why these assaults occur.

Community Justice Programs would not be complete if they over looked the seriousness of adolescent sexual offenders because these offenders commit a significant percentage of sexual assaults in Canada, which is one of the most serious crimes in our society and cannot be over looked by the justice system.


Borduin, C. (1990). Multisystemic Treatment of Adolescent Sexual Offenders. Intenational Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 996, 105-113

Bouhours, B., and Kathleen D. (2007) . Youth Sex Offenders in Court: An Analysis of Judicial Sentencing Remarks. Punishment and Society, 9, 371-395.

Brennan, S., and A. Taylor-Butts. (2008). Sexual Assault in Canada 2004 and 2007. Ottawa, On. Statistics Canada.

Child Abuse Effects. Adolescent Sexual Offenders. Retrieved March 19th, 2011 from

Department of Justice. The Youth Criminal Justice Act: Summary and Background. Retrieved March 19th, 2011 from

Health Canada. (1990). Adolescent Sexual Offenders: Information From the National Clearing House on Family Violence. Ottawa, On. Gordon F. Phaneuf.

Kobbe, Anna Mae. The University of Tennessee (n.d.) Preventing Sexual Abuse of Children. Retrieved March 19th, 2001 from

MST Services. (2006, January 31) Multisystemic Therapy. Retrieved March 19th, 2001, from

Roberts, J., and M. Hough. (2005). Sentencing Young Offenders. Public Opinion in England and Wales. Criminal Justice, 5, 211-244