Adolescent sex offenders are not as socially inept and awkward as society may believe them to be, a recent study has shown.
In fact, their social skills — such as having a knack for making friends or asking a member of the opposite sex out on a date — don’t differ that much from their non-offending peers.
It’s more likely the offenders have some sort of atypical sexual interests, researchers found, such as sexual desires towards young children and exposing themselves in public situations.
Knowing this, researchers say, will better allow professionals to tailor the assessments and treatments of adolescent sex offenders.
“If you walked into a typical group treatment for adolescent sex offenders, you might notice a lot of focus on social skills, like how to approach a girl, how to deal with conflict and understanding non-verbal communication,” said Royal Ottawa psychology consultant Dr. Michael Seto, the lead author of the study What Is So Special About Male Adolescent Sexual Offending? “Our research suggests that social skills training is not what young sex offenders need most in order to be rehabilitated.”
Seto and co-author Martin Lalumiere of the University of Lethbridge spent several years conducting a meta-analysis of 59 independent studies that compared 3,855 male sex offenders with 13,393 male non-sex offenders between the ages of 12 and 18.
Seto said the results of the study will have an impact on treatment as offenders’ social skills may not need to be examined and improved. It would be better, Seto said, if such work focused on other factors such as atypical sexual behaviours and whether an offender was himself a victim of sexual abuse at a young age.
“Discussing sexuality — early exposure to sex or pornography, sexual fantasies and sexual arousal — would likely get us closer to understanding why the offences were committed,” said Seto, “and prevent similar ones from being committed again.”
The authors did find, however, adolescent sex offenders had more feelings of social isolation and withdrawal than non-sex offenders.
“If adolescents think they cannot talk about what they are thinking or feeling, they cannot seek help and guidance,” Seto said. “Encouraging more open dialogue about sexuality between young people and their parents, teachers and health care workers would be a key element in preventing adolescents from committing sexual offences.”