Intrafamilial adolescent sex offenders: psychological factors and treatment issues

Criminology Research Council grant ; (05/03-04)

This report presents the findings of research designed to enhance our understanding of intrafamilial adolescent sex offenders and their treatment. The literature suggests that multifaceted treatment approaches that include cognitive behavioural, relapse prevention, and family interventions are more effective in reducing relapse than individual therapy alone. Despite this evidence, few family based programs operate in Australia or abroad, and the little available research on these interventions tends to be descriptive rather than evaluative. The present study attempted to bridge this gap.

The research utilised a prospective design, recruiting intrafamilial adolescent sex offenders engaged in a specialised and multifaceted treatment program. The design included the use of both standardised measures of treatment targets, and qualitative data derived from interviews with the offenders and their parents.

The research examined the profile and effect of psychotherapy treatment on 38 intrafamilial adolescent sex offenders attending a community based treatment program. Specifically it examined: 1) levels of psychopathology, coping skills, trauma symptoms, capacity for empathy, psychosexual characteristics, and general psychological symptoms; 2) the profiles of the families of intrafamilial adolescent sex offenders and the influence of the family structure on treatment attrition rates; 3) the value of a community based multifaceted psychotherapy treatment program to intrafamilial adolescent sex offenders; 4) the contribution of a multifaceted psychotherapy treatment program on the functioning of the adolescents' families; 5) the utility of existing typologies of adolescent sex offenders in understanding a community treatment sample of intrafamilial adolescent sex offenders.

The results reaffirmed some aspects of the picture of adolescent sex offenders slowly developing from the literature. For example, half of the study group was diagnosed with some form of psychiatric impairment including, most commonly, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (1 in 4), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and developmental delay. Almost three in every four (71%) of the study group reported being victims of some form of abuse. Often the adolescent offenders were themselves victims of sexual abuse (47.5%).