Psychological treatment approaches have evolved to be congruent with what we currently know about juvenile sexual offenders and why they commit offenses. Clinical practice in rehabilitating juvenile sexual offenders integrates an understanding that the underlying causes of juvenile sexual offending are heterogeneous, environmental, and developmental. What we know about juvenile sexual offenders is that the underlying causes of their sexually abusive behaviors include inappropriate exposure to pornography, exposure to aggression in their home and community, histories of sexual victimization, attachment trauma, sexual curiosity, and even just judgement lapses from being children, and not yet capable of fully grasping the consequences of their behavior. Evidenced-based treatment approaches integrate strengths-based and multi-systemic therapies that work towards increasing a youth’s connection to his or her family and community.
One of the guiding principles in the clinical practice application of sexual offender treatment is that we assess and intervene in ways that move the offender towards assuming full responsibility for their sexual offense.
Practitioners emphasize with clients that they have full control over their thoughts, behaviors, emotions, and desires. In “Dangerous Myths About Juvenile Sex Offenders,” Meghan Fagundes (2014) talks about her frontline experience as a juvenile sexual offender treatment provider. Treatment providers, like Fagundes, work tirelessly to help change juvenile sexual offenders so that they do not sexually re-offend with the practical application of research-based psychological treatment approaches.
Fagundes speaks about several stereotypes that suggest that sexual offenders cannot change. She says, “And this is why stereotypes around sexual offenders can be so dangerous. Because when they are monsters, they can’t become healthy, young men.”
The most dangerous aspect of these stereotypes is that these myths collude with the sexual offender by not holding the offender fully responsible for sexual abuse. The stereotype—’once a sex offender, always a sex offender—implies a dichotomy where we are powerless to prevent child sexual abuse, and, so is the offender. In clinical practice, rehabilitation would be impossible if the clinician believed that sexual offenders were incapable of change. And the core value of effective sexual offender treatment is that the offender can change and is fully responsible for taking control over changing his or her sexually abusive behavior, and its traumatic impact on others.