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Doj Juvenile Sex Offender Report Dec 2009

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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Justice Programs
Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention

Jeff Slowikowski, Acting Administrator

Office of Justice Programs	

Innovation	•	Partnerships	•	Safer	Neighborhoods	

Juveniles Who
Commit Sex Offenses
Against Minors
David Finkelhor, Richard Ormrod, and Mark Chaffin
The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) is committed to
improving the justice system’s response to crimes against children. OJJDP recognizes
that children are at increased risk for crime victimization. Not only are children the victims of many of the same crimes that victimize adults, they are subject to other crimes,
like child abuse and neglect, that are specific to childhood. The impact of these crimes
on young victims can be devastating, and the violent or sexual victimization of children can often lead to an intergenerational cycle of violence and abuse. The purpose
of OJJDP’s Crimes Against Children Series is to improve and expand the Nation’s efforts
to better serve child victims by presenting the latest information about child victimization,
including analyses of crime victimization statistics, studies of child victims and their special needs, and descriptions of programs and approaches that address these needs.
Although those who commit sex offenses
against minors are often described as
“pedophiles” or “predators” and thought
of as adults, it is important to understand
that a substantial portion of these offenses
are committed by other minors who do
not fit the image of such terms. Interest
1

This Bulletin follows the common convention of referring to these youth as “offenders.” However, very few
of the youth described with this label in the National
Incident-Based Reporting System data are convicted
as adults would be. Many were only alleged to have
engaged in illegal behavior, and, if subject to justice
system action, were adjudicated delinquent rather
than convicted of a crime. Thus, the term “juvenile offender” should not imply shared status with convicted
adult offenders, legally or otherwise.

December 2009

in youth who commit sexual offenses
has grown in recent years, along with
specialized treatment and management
programs, but relatively little populationbased epidemiological information about
the characteristics of this group of offenders1 and their offenses has been available.
The National Incident-Based Reporting
System (NIBRS) offers perspective on the
characteristics of the juvenile sex offender
population coming to the attention of law
enforcement.
Key findings from this Bulletin include the
following:
◆◆ Juveniles account for more than onethird (35.6 percent) of those known to

Access OJJDP publications online at www.ojp.usdoj.gov/ojjdp

www.ojp.usdoj.gov

A Message From OJJDP
The victimization of youth by adult
sex offenders has been an ongoing concern for some time. Although
all crimes constitute an assault on
civilization, the criminal violation of
children is particularly disturbing.
In recent years, there has been
increased public interest in the
incidence of sexual victimization of
youth by other youth. This should not
be surprising considering that youth
constitute more than one in four sex
offenders and that juveniles perpetrate
more than one in three sex offenses
against other youth.
Research on juvenile sex offenders
goes back more than half a century;
however, little information about these
young offenders and their offenses
exists.
This Bulletin draws on data from the
Federal Bureau of Investigation’s
National Incident-Based Reporting
System to provide population-based
epidemiological information on juvenile sex offending.
It is OJJDP’s hope that the findings
reported in this Bulletin and their
implications will help inform the policy
and practice of those committed to
addressing the sexual victimization of
youth and strengthening its prevention and deterrence—considerations
that are critical to success. Their
efforts to protect youth from victimization, or from becoming victimizers
themselves, have our support and
commendation.

police to have committed sex offenses
against minors.
◆	 Juveniles who commit sex offenses
against other children are more likely
than adult sex offenders to offend in
groups and at schools and to have
more male victims and younger victims.
◆	 The number of youth coming to the
attention of police for sex offenses in­
creases sharply at age 12 and plateaus
after age 14. Early adolescence is the
peak age for offenses against younger
children. Offenses against teenagers
surge during mid to late adolescence,
while offenses against victims under
age 12 decline.
◆	 A small number of juvenile offenders—
1 out of 8—are younger than age 12.
◆	 Females constitute 7 percent of juve­
niles who commit sex offenses.
◆	 Females are found more frequently
among younger youth than older youth
who commit sex offenses. This group’s
offenses involve more multiple-victim
and multiple-perpetrator episodes, and
they are more likely to have victims who
are family members or males.
◆	 Jurisdictions vary enormously in their
concentration of reported juvenile sex
offenders, far more so than they vary
in their concentration of adult sex
offenders.

Background
Research on juvenile sex offenders goes
back more than 50 years, but most of what
is known comes from a surge of interest
in the subject that began in the mid-1980s
(Chaffin, Letourneau, and Silovsky, 2002),
culled primarily from populations of youth
in sex offender treatment programs. Juve­
nile sex offender treatment programs saw
a 40-fold increase between 1982 and 1992
(Knopp, Freeman-Longo, and Stevenson,
1992). Accordingly, the number of pub­
lished research articles on juvenile
sex offenders increased from a handful
prior to the mid-1980s to more than 200
studies currently. Dissemination of infor­
mation about these offenders has included
federally funded efforts from sources such
as the Center for Sex Offender Manage­
ment and the National Center on the
Sexual Behavior of Youth. Professional
societies such as the Association for the
Treatment of Sexual Abusers have also
published policy and practice guidelines.

Most of the clinical sample studies on
which current knowledge is based have
focused on the clinical characteristics of
offenders, treatment issues, risk predictors,
and recidivism rates (Becker, 1998). The
clinical literature has generally considered
teenage and preteen offenders as differ­
ent offender types: teenage sex offenders
are predominately male (more than 90
percent), whereas a significant number
of preteen offenders are female (Silovsky
and Niec, 2002). Most offenses described
in the clinical literature involve teenage

offenders acting alone with young children
as victims. Many specialized intervention
systems are designed with this type of
behavior in mind.
Early thinking about juvenile sex offenders
was based on what was known about adult
child molesters, particularly adult pedo­
philes, given findings that a significant
portion of them began their offending dur­
ing adolescence. However, current clinical
typologies and models emphasize that
this retrospective logic has obscured

The National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS)
The U.S. Department of Justice is replacing its long-established Uniform Crime Re­
ports (UCR) system with a more comprehensive National Incident-Based Reporting
System (NIBRS). Whereas UCR monitors only a limited number of index crimes and
gathers few details on each crime event (except in the case of homicide), NIBRS
collects a wide range of information on victims, offenders, and circumstances for
a greater variety of offenses. Offenses tracked in NIBRS include violent crimes
(e.g., homicide, assault, rape, robbery), property crimes (e.g., theft, arson, vandal­
ism, fraud, and embezzlement), and crimes against society (e.g., drug offenses,
gambling, prostitution). Moreover, NIBRS collects information on multiple victims,
multiple offenders, and multiple crimes that may be part of the same episode.
Under the new system, as under the old, local law enforcement personnel compile
information on crimes coming to their attention and the information is then aggre­
gated at State and national levels. For a crime to count in the system, law enforce­
ment simply needs to report and investigate the crime. The incident does not need
to be cleared, nor must an arrest be made, though unfounded reports are deleted.
NIBRS holds great promise, but it is still far from a national system. The Federal
Bureau of Investigation (FBI) began implementing the system in 1988, and State
and local agency participation is voluntary and incremental. By 1995, jurisdictions
in 9 States had agencies contributing data; by 1997, the number was 12; and
by 2004, jurisdictions in 29 States submitted reports, providing coverage for 20
percent of the Nation’s population and 16 percent of its crime. At the beginning of
2004, only 7 States (Delaware, Idaho, Iowa, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia,
and West Virginia) had participation from all local jurisdictions, and only 5 cities
with a population greater than 500,000 (Columbus, OH; El Paso, TX; Memphis,
TN; Nashville, TN; and Milwaukee, WI) were reporting. The crime experiences of
large urban areas are thus particularly underrepresented. The system, therefore,
is not yet nationally representative, nor do its data represent national trends or
national statistics. Nevertheless, the system is assembling large amounts of crime
information and providing rich detail about juvenile offending and victimization that
was previously unavailable. The patterns and associations these data reveal are
real and represent the experiences of a large number of youth. For 2004, the 29
participating States* reported more than 4,037,000 crime incidents, with at least
14,000 involving an identified juvenile sex offender. As more jurisdictions join the
system, new patterns may emerge.
More information about NIBRS data collection can be found at these Web sites:
(1) www.fbi.gov/ucr/ucr.htm#cius
(2) www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/nibrs.htm
(3) www.jrsa.org/ibrrc

* In 2004, participating States included Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia,
Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire,
North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah,
Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

2

important motivational, behavioral, and
prognostic differences between juvenile
sex offenders and adult sex offenders and
has overestimated the role of deviant sexu­
al preferences in juvenile sex crimes. More
recent models emphasize the diversity
of juvenile sex offenders, their favorable
prognosis suggested by low sex-offense­
recidivism rates, and the commonalities
between juvenile sex offending and other
juvenile delinquency (Letourneau and
Miner, 2005).
Clinical studies also underscore a diversi­
ty of behaviors, characteristics, and future
risk. For example, the sexual behaviors
that bring youth into clinical settings can
include events as diverse as sharing por­
nography with younger children, fondling
a child over the clothes, grabbing peers
in a sexual way at school, date rape, gang
rape, or performing oral, vaginal, or anal
sex on a much younger child. Offenses
can involve a single event, a few isolated
events, or a large number of events with
multiple victims. Juvenile sex offenders
come from a variety of social and family
backgrounds and can either be well func­
tioning or have multiple problems. A num­
ber have experienced a high accumulated
burden of adversity, including maltreat­
ment or exposure to violence; others have
not. In some cases, a history of childhood
sexual abuse appears to contribute to
later juvenile sex offending (Lambie et al.,
2002), but most sexual abuse victims do
not become sex offenders in adolescence
or adulthood (Widom and Ames, 1994).
Among preteen children with sexual be­
havior problems, a history of sexual abuse
is particularly prevalent.
In addition to a diversity of backgrounds,
diversity in motivation is evident. Some
juvenile sex offenders appear primarily
motivated by sexual curiosity. Others
have longstanding patterns of violating
the rights of others. Some offenses occur
in conjunction with serious mental health
problems. Some of the offending behavior
is compulsive, but it more often appears
impulsive or reflects poor judgment
(Becker, 1998; Center for Sex Offender
Management, 1999; Chaffin, 2005; Hunter
et al., 2003).
Similarly, clinical data point to variability
in risk for future sex offending as an adult.
Multiple short- and long-term clinical fol­
lowup studies of juvenile sex offenders con­
sistently demonstrate that a large majority
(about 85–95 percent) of sex-offending
youth have no arrests or reports for future
sex crimes. When previously sex-offending

Using NIBRS Data To Investigate Juvenile Sex Offenders
The information presented in this Bulletin about juvenile sex offenders is based on
data collected by the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) for 2004
(see discussion of the National Incident-Based Reporting System on page 2). At
present, NIBRS is the only available source of geographically diverse and uniform­
ly collected crime data that provides detailed descriptions of juvenile sex offend­
ers, their victims, and the crime incidents they initiate. The offenders and incidents
recorded by NIBRS represent only those that come to the attention of police.
The basic unit of data organization in NIBRS is the crime incident. An incident is
defined as “one or more offenses committed by the same offender, or group of of­
fenders acting in concert, at the same time and place” (U.S. Department of Justice,
Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2004:191). Thus, a single sex offense incident can
be characterized by additional offenses beyond a sex offense or even multiple sex
offenses, by multiple offenders, and by multiple victims. Most sex offense incidents,
however, are not so complex.
For this Bulletin, the basic unit of measure is the individual sex offender, although
NIBRS links each offender to broader incident characteristics, such as the number
of offenders present, victim age and identity, incident location, and time of day.
Although juveniles sometimes commit sex crimes against adults, the majority (96.2
percent) of those known to police target other juveniles. These offenders, juveniles
who commit sex offenses against minors, are of particular interest to this analysis.
Unless stated otherwise in this Bulletin, “sex offender” (both juvenile and adult)
refers to those committing sex offenses against minors.
For purposes of analysis, juvenile victims are defined as persons younger than 18;
juvenile offenders are defined as persons of ages 6 through 17. (Although NIBRS
records include a small number of children younger than 6 years of age, the notion
of very young children committing sex crimes is problematic, so these children
were excluded from this analysis.) An adult is defined as a person 18 years of
age or older. It is also important to note that the offender ages recorded in NIBRS
reflect the ages of the youth at the time the incidents are reported, not the ages at
the time the incidents occurred, which are different in 19 percent of cases.
This Bulletin makes some comparisons between an individual offender and an
individual victim (e.g., age difference, gender similarity or difference).
[continued on page 4]

youth do have future arrests, they are far
more likely to be for nonsexual crimes such
as property or drug offenses than for sex
crimes (Alexander, 1999; Caldwell, 2002;
Reitzel and Carbonell, 2007). These empiri­
cal findings contrast with popular thought
and widely publicized anecdotal cases that
disproportionately portray incidences of
sex crime recidivism. Nevertheless, a small
number of sex-offending youth are at ele­
vated risk to progress to adult sex offenses.
To identify those who are more likely to
progress to future offending, researchers
have developed actuarial risk assessment
tools that have demonstrated some predic­
tive validity; efforts to refine these tools are
underway (Parks and Bard, 2006; Righthand et al., 2005; Worling, 2004).
Unfortunately, research on juvenile sex
offenders beyond clinical populations
has been more limited. Few studies have
surveyed representative youth popula­
tions to ascertain population-based rates

3

of juvenile offending (e.g., Elliott, Huizinga,
and Menard, 1989). Juvenile sex offenses
reported to authorities yield official crime
report data, but these data typically con­
tain limited information about the nature
of the incidents involved. As more detailed
crime report data become available,
and as researchers study these data in
conjunction with clinical sample data, the
information gained will assist prevention
and intervention planning substantially.

Juvenile and Adult
Sex Offenders Known
to Police
Juvenile sex offenders comprise more
than one-quarter (25.8 percent) of all sex
offenders and more than one-third (35.6
percent) of sex offenders against juvenile
victims (the group that is the focus of this
Bulletin). As a percentage of all juvenile
offenders, they do not constitute a large

Using NIBRS Data To Investigate Juvenile Sex Offenders
(continued)
For offenders in incidents with multiple victims (12.8 percent of juvenile offenders),
this Bulletin uses the youngest victim for these comparisons.
NIBRS data identify a number of specific sex offenses and classify them as either
forcible (rape, sodomy, sexual assault with an object, fondling) or nonforcible (in­
cest, statutory rape) sex offenses. It defines a forcible sex offense as “any sexual
act directed against another person, forcibly and/or against that person’s will; or
not forcibly or against the person’s will where the victim is incapable of giving
consent” (U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2004:191).
A person may be incapable of giving consent because of temporary or permanent
mental or physical incapacity or because of youth. Furthermore, NIBRS guidelines
direct that “the ability of the victim to give consent must be a professional deter­
mination by the law enforcement agency” (U.S. Department of Justice, Federal
Bureau of Investigation, 2004:191). A nonforcible sex offense is defined as “unlaw­
ful, nonforcible sexual intercourse” (U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of
Investigation, 2004:192).
Although NIBRS attempts to standardize crime definitions, individual police officers
and jurisdictions may categorize similar episodes in very different ways for NIBRS
purposes, so the distinctions among various sex offense categories may be less
clear than the names might imply. Although statutes do describe illegal sexual
behavior that could easily be classified as nonforcible (e.g., showing pornography
or making sexual suggestions to a child) and other behaviors that are clearly forc­
ible (e.g., rape), how law enforcement might categorize less straightforward cases
(e.g., physically noncoercive fondling between youth of widely disparate ages) may
be less reliable. For this Bulletin, “sex offender” refers to a person who has commit­
ted either a forcible or nonforcible sex offense, although the majority of juvenile sex
offenders (90.5 percent) reported in NIBRS committed a forcible sex offense.

Figure 1: Age Distribution of Juvenile Sex Offenders, by Victim Age

Percentage of All Offenders

18

Known juvenile offenders who commit
sex offenses against minors span a variety
of ages. Five percent are younger than 9
years, and 16 percent are younger than
12 years (figure 1). The rate rises sharply
around age 12 and plateaus after age 14.
As a proportion of the total, 38 percent are
between ages 12 and 14, and 46 percent
are between ages 15 and 17. The vast ma­
jority (93 percent) are male.
Juveniles who commit sex offenses against
minors are different from adults who
commit sex offenses against minors on a
number of crucial dimensions captured
by NIBRS (table 1, page 5). Juveniles are
more likely to offend in groups (24 percent
with one or more co-offenders versus 14
percent for adults). They are somewhat
more likely to offend against acquain­
tances (63 percent versus 55 percent).
Their most serious offense is less likely
to be rape (24 percent versus 31 percent)
and more likely to be sodomy (13 percent
versus 7 percent) or fondling (49 percent
versus 42 percent). They are more likely
to have a male victim (25 percent versus
13 percent).
Sex offenses committed by juveniles very
often occur in the home, although some­
what less often than their adult counter­
parts (69 percent versus 80 percent) but
are more likely to occur in a school (12
percent versus 2 percent). Their offenses
occur somewhat more in the afternoon
(43 percent versus 37 percent for adults)
than in the evening (25 percent versus
28 percent) or at night (5 percent versus
9 percent).

16
14
12
10
8
6
4
2
0

group—juvenile sex offenders account for
only 3.1 percent of all juvenile offenders
and 7.4 percent of all violent juvenile
offenders. If other jurisdictions in the
country were assumed to be the same
as the NIBRS jurisdictions, one would
extrapolate approximately 89,000 juvenile
sex offenders known to police throughout
the United States in 2004.

6

7

8

9

10

11

13

12

14

15

16

17

Offender Age
Offenders of Victims ≥12 Years Old

Offenders of Victims <12 Years Old

Note: N = 13,471 juvenile offenders.
Source: U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Incident-Based
Reporting System, 2004.

4

Juvenile sex offenders are also much more
likely than adult sex offenders to target
young children as their victims. The pro­
portion of victims younger than the age of
12 is 59 percent for juvenile sex offenders,
compared with 39 percent for adult sex of­
fenders. Figure 2 (page 6) shows how adult
sex offenders concentrate their offenses
against victims age 13 and older. In con­
trast, the age range of victims of juvenile
sex offenders is more dispersed, and 16-

and 17-year-old victims actually represent
a surprisingly small proportion. Juvenile
sex offenders are less likely to target other
juveniles who are older than they are.
Figure 2 also shows that children younger
than age 12 have about an equal likelihood
of being victimized by juvenile and adult
sex offenders, but adult offenders predom­
inate among those who victimize teens.
Juvenile sex offenders more commonly
target other juveniles who are somewhat
younger than they are, signaling a clear

relationship between the age of juvenile
sex offenders and the age of their victims
(figure 3, page 6). When juvenile sex of­
fenders are themselves 6 to 9 years old,
the mean age of their victims is between 5
and 7. When juvenile sex offenders are age
15 to 17, the mean age of their victims is
between 11 and 13. However, when victims
are younger than age 12, there is a marked
peak for offending by 13- to 14-year-olds,
and then a dramatic decline in the target­
ing of these young victims by youth age
15 and older (figure 1). Youth age 15 and

Table 1: Characteristics of Juveniles and Adults Who Commit
Sex Offenses Against Minors
Sex Offenders (%)
Juvenile
(N = 13,471)

Adult
(N = 24,344)

Multiple offenders in incident
Two offenders
Three or more offenders

23.9
14.4
9.5

13.5
9.1
4.4

Victim identity (youngest victim)
Family
Acquaintance
Stranger
Victim was also offender
Unknown

25.0
63.2
2.5
0.8
8.4

31.9
54.8
4.4
0.0
9.0

Sex offense (most serious)
Rape
Sodomy
Sex assault with object
Fondling
Nonforcible sex offense

24.0
12.5
4.7
49.4
9.5

30.6
6.5
4.4
42.1
16.3

7.3

5.4

Victim gender
Any female victim in incident
Any male victim in incident

78.8
24.7

88.2
13.4

Incident location
Residence/home
School/college
Store/building
Outside
Other/unknown

68.8
11.9
3.8
7.1
8.3

79.6
1.6
4.8
6.7
7.3

Incident time of day
Morning (6 a.m. to 12 p.m.)
Afternoon (12 p.m. to 6 p.m.)
Evening (6 p.m. to 12 a.m.)
Night (12 a.m. to 6 a.m.)

26.7
43.0
25.2
5.2

25.1
37.3
28.3
9.2

Arrest in incident

30.5

34.1

Characteristic

Female offender

Source: U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Incident-Based
Reporting System, 2004.

5

older primarily target postpubescent
victims.
This relationship between offender age
and victim age also varies by victim
gender, as shown in figures 4 (page 8) and
5 (page 10). When the victims are boys,
a majority are younger than age 12, and
there is also a marked peak reflecting
12- to 14-year-old sex offenders targeting
4- to 7-year-old boys. When the victims
are girls, by contrast, there is a greater
link between the rise in age of the offender
and the victim, and the peak is among
15- to 17-year-olds targeting 13- to 15-year­
old girls. This suggests that when teen
offenders target boys, they tend to focus
on much younger and sexually immature
boys rather than their peers, whereas
when older teen offenders target girls,
they tend to focus more on sexually ma­
ture females. This finding may stem from
the fact that juvenile offenders may find it
easier to dominate girls and younger boys
than to dominate older boys. However, it
could also be that older male victims of
teenage offenders are particularly reluc­
tant to report their victimizations to police
compared with teenage female victims.

Younger Juvenile
Sex Offenders
Although most juvenile sex offenders are
teenagers, about 16 percent of those who
come to police attention are younger than
age 12. This group has been of particu­
lar interest to clinicians, educators, and
public safety officials, who have been
reluctant to regard them in the same
delinquency-oriented framework that has
applied to older offenders. Profession­
als commonly use other terms, such as
“children with sexual behavior problems,”
to describe this group. What proportion
of these children come to police attention
is unclear because these cases may be
handled exclusively within other systems,
such as the child protection system or
schools. However, the group of younger
juvenile offenders who come to police
attention does manifest certain character­
istics that differentiate them from older
offenders (table 2, page 7).
Offenders younger than age 12 are some­
what more likely than offenders age 12
or older to be female and to offend in
multiple offender and multiple victim epi­
sodes. Younger offenders are also some­
what more likely than older offenders to

offend against family members and in a
residential environment. Younger offenders are more likely than older offenders
to target male victims (37 percent versus

20 percent) and younger victims closer to
their own age. Their most serious offense
is more likely to be fondling and less likely
to be rape. Police are considerably less

Female Juvenile Sex
Offenders

Figure 2: Age Distribution of Juvenile Sex Victims, by Offender Age

Female juvenile sex offenders are another
group who have attracted a particular
interest among clinicians and law enforce­
ment officials. They constitute only a small
proportion (7 percent) of all juvenile sex
offenders in the NIBRS database, but they
have several features that distinguish
them from male juvenile sex offenders
(table 3, page 9).

Percentage of All Victims

12
10
8
6
4
2
0

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

Victim Age
Victims of Adult Offenders

Victims of Juvenile Offenders

Note: N = 37,815 juvenile victims, 13,471 (36 percent) with juvenile offenders and 24,344 (64 per­
cent) with adult offenders. For offenders with multiple victims, age of youngest victim is shown.
Source: U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Incident-Based
Reporting System, 2004.

17

100
(left axis

)

15

80

13

70
60

11

50

9

40
30

(right

7

axis)

5

20

3

10
0

Mean Victim Age

90

6

7

8

Female offenders are younger than their
male counterparts. Of the female offend­
ers, 31 percent were younger than 12,
compared with only 14 percent of male
offenders. Female offenders were consid­
erably more likely than male offenders to
offend in conjunction with others (36 per­
cent versus 23 percent) and in conjunction
with adults (13 percent versus 5 percent).
They were also more likely to be involved
in incidents with multiple victims than
were male offenders (23 percent versus
12 percent) and to be considered by in­
vestigators to be victims at the same time
they were offending.
Female offenders are somewhat more
likely to offend in a residence or home
and less likely to offend at a school. They
were more likely than male offenders to
have male victims (37 percent versus 21
percent) and victims younger than age 11
(60 percent versus 43 percent).

Figure 3: Juvenile Sex Victim Age, by Juvenile Offender Age

Percentage of Victims
Younger Than 12

likely to arrest younger offenders than
older offenders in the wake of a report
(17 percent versus 33 percent).

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

1

Offender Age
Female Victims

Male Victims

All Victims

Note: N = 13,471 juvenile offenders. For offenders with multiple victims, age of youngest victim
is shown.
Source: U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Incident-Based
Reporting System, 2004.

6

Reporting Juvenile Sex
Offenses
Concern about juvenile sex offenders is
a relatively recent phenomenon. Some
communities have mobilized quite ener­
getically in recent years to identify and
intervene with such youth, conducting
extensive training among law enforce­
ment, child protection staff, and educators
and establishing specialized treatment
programs. In other communities, however,
concern about the problem has been slow
to develop. Thus, the spectrum of com­
munity activity surrounding juvenile sex
offenders ranges from very slight in some
jurisdictions to exaggerated or dispropor­
tionate in other jurisdictions.
This variability in community response is
reflected in the data from NIBRS jurisdic­
tions, which differ considerably in the

concentration of juvenile sex offenders in
their caseloads. Some jurisdictions may
have unusually high concentrations of
juvenile sex offenders. In NIBRS jurisdic­
tions with populations greater than 5,000
(classified as “city” type jurisdictions) and

that have at least 10 juvenile violent of­
fenders, juvenile sex offenders constitute
6 percent of the total number of juvenile
violent offenders overall. However, a
considerable number of jurisdictions
have particularly high concentrations of

Table 2: Characteristics of Juvenile Sex Offenders Who Victimize Minors,
by Age of Offender
Juvenile Sex Offenders (%)
Characteristic

Younger (age < 12 years)
(N = 2,104)

Older (age ≥ 12 years)
(N = 11,367)

Multiple offenders in incident
Adult offender in incident
Female offender
Multiple victims in incident

29.0
2.6
14.6
16.0

23.0
5.7
5.9
12.1

Victim identity (youngest victim)
Family
Acquaintance
Stranger
Victim is also offender
Unknown

31.6
56.0
1.6
1.0
9.7

23.8
64.5
2.7
0.8
8.2

Incident location
Residence/home
School/college
Store/building
Outside
Other/unknown

73.0
10.8
2.9
5.0
8.2

68.1
12.1
4.0
7.4
8.3

Victim gender (youngest victim)
Male
Female

36.6
63.4

19.9
80.1

Age of youngest victim (years)
0–6
7–10
11–14
15–17

57.1
31.2
10.9
0.8

21.0
15.5
43.2
20.2

Sex offense (most serious)
Rape
Sodomy
Sex assault with object
Fondling
Nonforcible sex offense

11.0
15.4
7.2
61.3
5.1

26.4
11.9
4.2
47.2
10.5

Injury in incident
None
Minor
Major

88.8
9.6
1.6

86.9
10.6
2.5

Incident time of day
Morning (6 a.m. to 12 p.m.)
Afternoon (12 p.m. to 6 p.m.)
Evening (6 p.m. to 12 a.m.)
Night (12 a.m. to 6 a.m.)

28.9
45.6
22.7
2.8

26.3
42.5
25.7
5.6

Arrest in incident

16.5

32.9

Source: U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Incident-Based
Reporting System, 2004.

7

juvenile sex offenders. For example, of the
identified NIBRS jurisdictions, 8 percent
have concentrations of juvenile sex offend­
ers that are three times that of the median
jurisdiction (i.e., more than 25 percent of
the jurisdiction’s juvenile violent offenders
are sex offenders). In contrast, just 4 per­
cent of the identified NIBRS jurisdictions
have concentrations of adult sex offend­
ers that are triple the rate for the median
jurisdiction.
There is also evidence of a tendency in
other jurisdictions for juvenile sex of­
fenders to represent a disproportionately
small proportion of all juvenile violent
offenders. In 29 percent of the identified
NIBRS jurisdictions, the concentration of
juvenile sex offenders equals half the me­
dian concentration (a low proportion) for
the group of NIBRS jurisdictions identified
above. In contrast, only 19 percent of the
identified NIBRS jurisdictions have a simi­
larly low concentration of adult sex offend­
ers. That is, in contrast to the situation
with adult sex offender concentrations,
more jurisdictions have either a very high
concentration of juvenile sex offenders or
a concentration that is particularly low,
reflecting, perhaps, contrasting levels of
interest in this offender group. Table 4
(page 10) suggests that large jurisdictions
are particularly likely to have low concen­
trations of juvenile sex offenders among
their juvenile violent offender population.
It is also possible that these jurisdictions
have higher rates of violent nonsexual ju­
venile offending, which lowers the relative
percentage of juvenile sex offenders.

Implications
These findings suggest a number of impli­
cations for policy and practice. First, the
statistics clearly highlight the fact that
juveniles continue to constitute a substan­
tial proportion—more than one-third—of
those who commit sexual offenses against
minors. This proportion is comparable to
that found in reports from other samples
and from earlier periods (Davis and Leit­
enberg, 1987; Snyder and Sickmund, 1999).
Thus, any effort to prevent or intervene
in sexual assault and child molestation
must address the risk that juvenile sex
offenders pose. Prevention and deterrence
messages should be directed to youthful
audiences in schools, youth organiza­
tions, on the Internet, on youth-oriented
media, and even in families. Victimization
prevention messages delivered to potential victims and their caregivers should be 

broadened to include information about 


Figure 4: Juvenile Sex Offenders Versus Male Juvenile Victims
17
16

Percent of
Offender-Victim
Pairs

15
14
13

2–2.5

12
11

Victim Age

10

1.5–2

9
8

1–1.5

7
6

0.5–1

5
4
3

0–0.5

2
1
0
6

7

8

9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17

Offender Age
Source: U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Incident-Based
Reporting System, 2004.

the risk of sexual abuse not only from
adults but also from juveniles.
In addition, perpetration prevention
programs that have been targeted primar­
ily toward at-risk adult populations need
to begin earlier (Ryan, 1997), with youth
younger than age 12, the age at which
these findings suggest an escalation in
offending occurs. Given the sharp increase
in sex offense rates at this age, preven­
tion messages delivered to boys prior to
early adolescence may be essential to
consider. The prevention messages for
these preteens may need to focus on their
risk for victimizing much younger children
(ages 4–7). Families and institutions may
need to stay vigilant about contexts that
involve pairings of young teenage boys
with much younger children. This is not to
suggest that all young teenage boys pose a
high risk for molesting children. Very few
juveniles of any age commit sex offenses.
Rather, it is simply that the risk of offend­
ing against children during this develop­
mental period appears to be relatively
higher than at other ages. Therefore, some

increased vigilance may be appropriate.
This might include taking additional care
to check references when considering
young teenage babysitters and exercis­
ing closer supervision or monitoring of
interactions.
Different preventive priorities seem impor­
tant for older teenagers. Given the older
age profile for victims of older teenagers,
prevention messages may need to shift as
youth enter middle adolescence. Preven­
tion messages for these older teenagers
may be better focused on the dynamics of
date and teenager-on-teenager rape. The
Centers for Disease Control and Preven­
tion (CDC) have developed a multilevel
public health primary-perpetration pre­
vention model that includes suggested
prevention activities at the individual, re­
lationship, community, and societal levels
(Centers for Disease Control and Preven­
tion, 2004), including a focus on juvenile
perpetration prevention.
To ensure adequate intervention with the
large proportion of juveniles among the

8

sex offender population, police, prosecu­
tors, and probation and parole officials
need adequate training and resources to
respond effectively and sensitively to
juvenile sex offenders. They must conduct
investigations and manage juvenile offend­
ers in a way that best prevents reoffending.
Fortunately, several intervention strate­
gies have proven effective in reducing
recidivism among teenage sex offenders,
and communities should acquaint them­
selves with these approaches (Borduin
and Schaeffer, 2001; Reitzel and Carbonell,
2007; Letourneau et al., 2009). Good results
have also been reported across a number
of short-term interventions with juvenile
offenders younger than age 12 (Chaffin et
al., 2008). Researchers found that one brief
treatment for preteens reduced the risk of
future sex offenses to levels comparable
with those of children who had no history
of inappropriate sexual behavior (Carpen­
tier, Silovsky, and Chaffin, 2006).
Analysis of the study data also highlights
certain features of juvenile sex offend­
ers that policymakers should take into
account. First, the findings emphasize
the diversity among juveniles who com­
mit sex offenses. This population clearly
includes older and younger youth, males
and females, those who offend against
much younger children, those who offend
against peers, those who offend alone, and
those who offend in groups, among other
diverse characteristics. This diversity indi­
cates the need to avoid stereotypes about
juvenile sex offenders and to develop pre­
vention and response strategies that can
accommodate many of these various types
of youth and offenses. Similarly, public
policies must reflect the diversity among
juvenile sex offenders by adopting more
nuanced and flexible procedures rather
than broad mandates.
The analyses reiterate many findings from
the clinical sample literature, notably, that
individuals known to the victim, including
family members, are those who most often
commit sexual assaults; that around 90
percent of known teen offenders are male;
and that preteens with sexual behavior
problems include a higher percentage
of girls. Given the natural reluctance
to consider family members and other
trusted persons among those who may
pose a danger, these findings underscore
the need for information about prevention
to emphasize that risk can include family
members or other well-known persons.
The findings show that young boys are
highly vulnerable to offenses by other

juveniles. Parents, schools, or prevention
programs that have focused on limiting
or supervising contact between female
children and older male juveniles or adults
must revise their messages to include

examples involving young male victims,
and perhaps even female perpetrators.
Because boys younger than 12 are particu­
larly at risk, it is important to give them
prevention information that addresses

Table 3: Characteristics of Juvenile Sex Offenders Who Victimize Minors,
by Gender of Offender
Juvenile Sex Offenders (%)
Female
(N = 979)

Male
(N = 12,450)

Offender age (years)
6–8
9–11
12–14
15–17

10.6
20.6
38.3
30.4

4.4
10.0
37.9
47.7

Multiple offenders in incident
Adult offender in incident
Multiple victims in incident

36.1
12.6
22.9

22.9
4.6
12.0

Victim identity (youngest victim)
Family
Acquaintance
Stranger
Victim was also offender
Unknown

26.4
57.0
0.6
6.3
9.7

24.9
63.8
2.6
0.4
8.3

Incident location
Residence/home
School/college
Store/building
Outside
Other/unknown

77.2
6.5
4.8
4.3
7.2

68.2
12.4
3.8
7.3
8.4

Victim gender (youngest victim)
Male
Female

36.6
63.4

21.4
78.6

Age of youngest victim (years)
0–6
7–10
11–14
15–17

39.8
20.2
26.0
13.9

25.6
17.8
39.2
17.4

Type of sex offense
Forcible
Nonforcible

91.0
9.0

90.4
9.6

Injury in incident
None
Minor
Major

87.6
11.5
0.9

87.0
10.5
2.5

Incident time of day
Morning (6 a.m. to 12 p.m.)
Afternoon (12 p.m. to 6 p.m.)
Evening (6 p.m. to 12 a.m.)
Night (12 a.m. to 6 a.m.)

27.4
41.5
27.0
4.0

26.6
43.1
25.1
5.2

Arrest in incident

26.7

30.9

Characteristic

Source: U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Incident-Based
Reporting System, 2004.

9

the possibility of sexual misbehavior at
the hands of older boys. Adults should be
equally vigilant in protecting young boys
as in protecting young girls.
Another significant finding is that juve­
nile offenders are more likely than adult
offenders to commit illegal sexual behav­
ior in groups. This finding mirrors recent
work in other countries that also has
shown that juveniles commit more sex
crimes in groups (Kjellgren et al., 2006).
Although some of these group-involved
juveniles may have offended on their own,
the findings suggest that peer influences
play as much of a role in juvenile sexual
delinquency as they do in nonsexual
delinquency, underscoring the need for
prevention efforts to look beyond individu­
al pathology and consider male adolescent
peer cultures. It may be possible to devise
interventions that would help inoculate
some malleable, but less delinquency
prone, youth to resist such peer influence.
Such efforts could be extensions of some
of the work in the field to promote more
prosocial actions by “bystanders” with
regard to date rape (Banyard, Moynihan,
and Plante, 2007).
Data from police reports also show that,
overall, older offenders tend to choose
older victims. Juveniles who commit
sexual offenses tend to do so against their
age mates or somewhat younger children.
In fact, offenses against young children
actually decline across offender age, as
offenders move from early to middle
adolescence. This contradicts an assump­
tion behind some sex offender treatment
that a fixed attraction to young children
(i.e., pedophilia) is the sole or even pre­
dominant motivation for juvenile sex
offenses. The relationships between victim
and offender age found in this study may
suggest developmental hypotheses for the
clinical assessment of juveniles. To the
extent that epidemiologically rarer events
correspond to greater individual deviancy,
cases of older teenagers victimizing much
younger children might raise relatively
more concern and pose higher future
risk than cases where younger teenagers
victimize young children. Because it is
more common for younger teenagers than
older teenagers to engage in illegal sexual
behavior with younger children, this
scenario may reflect comparatively lower
levels of individual pathology.
Juvenile sex offenders known to law
enforcement appear to commit a greater
number of group-involved cases and
teenager-on-teenager cases than one might

expect from studies of clinical populations
in which a typical offender is a single
teenager victimizing a younger child.
Although the clinical literature on juvenile
sex offenders has not emphasized teenager-on-teenager sexual assault, the NIBRS
data suggest that this problem is very

prevalent among middle- and late-adolescent males. It is possible that the juvenile
justice system processes group-involved
and teenager-on-teenager cases differently
or that these offenders are less likely to
receive services. How the system handles
youth and how well current juvenile

Table 4: Juvenile Sex Offenders as a Percentage of All Juvenile Violent
Offenders, by Agency Size
Quartile (%)
Agency population*
Less than 50,000
50,000–100,000
100,000–300,000
More than 300,000

Percent

Lower

7.3
6.3
6.7
4.7

1.9
3.2
4.1
3.4

Upper
11.5
9.5
11.9
12.1

*Table includes only agencies classified by NIBRS as cities (population more than 5,000) and which
reported at least 10 juvenile violent offenders (N = 1,010 agencies).

Source: U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Incident-Based
Reporting System, 2004.

Figure 5: Juvenile Sex Offenders Versus Female Juvenile Victims
17
15

Percent of
Offender-Victim
Pairs

14

3.5–4

16

13

3–3.5

12
2.5–3

Victim Age

11
10

2–2.5

9

1.5–2

8
7

1–1.5

6

0.5–1

5
4

0–0.5

3
2
1
0
6

7

8

9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17

Offender Age
Source: U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Incident-Based
Reporting System, 2004.

10

justice programming addresses their
needs may need further examination. Peer
assaults and date rapes have sometimes
received less attention than the sexual
abuse of young children by teenagers.
However, peer assaults and date rape may
be easier to prevent because the power
differential or developmental difference
between offender and victim in these
cases is less than that between a teenager
and a much younger victim. Because
juvenile sexual assaults are more likely
than adult assaults to occur at school or
during afterschool hours, efforts to
prevent juvenile assaults might benefit
from actions focused on these settings.
This analysis found considerable variation
across jurisdictions and communities in
the proportion of juvenile offenses that
were sexual in nature. There are a number
of possibilities, including real differences
in prevalence rates, different rates of overall crime or crime reporting, or differential
willingness to report or investigate juvenile sex offenses in particular, that might
explain this finding. Observation suggests
real variation in community approaches to
juvenile sex offending. In some communities, officials handle juvenile sex offense
cases more within the child protection
system than within the criminal justice
system. Exclusive handling of a case
within the child welfare system may occur
more often when a young child commits
the offense or when the offense occurs
within the family, possibly causing these
types of cases to be underrepresented in
NIBRS data.
If the variation is indeed due to differences
in community practice, it may merit additional study, particularly to test whether
more aggressive or more criminal-justiceoriented approaches to the problem have
advantages over less aggressive approaches or ones that emphasize other institutions such as child protective services or
mental health agencies. Some communities have clearly made this problem a law
enforcement priority. Although there are
many reasons to think that such a priority could have benefits for the community
and victims and result in a reduction of
sex offending, these are propositions that
researchers must evaluate. On the other
hand, questions have been raised about
whether particularly harsh or stigmatizing
community policies—for example placing
juveniles on public sex offender registries
or excluding these youth from normal
social interactions—may have unintended
negative consequences, such as deterring reporting, decreasing juvenile justice

system involvement in cases, or hindering
youths’ prosocial developmental that may
lead to increased crime risk (Letourneau
and Armstrong, 2008).

Conclusion
The issue of juvenile sex offenses against
minors, like most issues involving sex
crimes and minors, will continue to
attract considerable controversy and
debate. Such debates can often continue
unresolved or with questionable policy
outcomes in the absence of good epidemi­
ology and other research about the prob­
lem and its dynamics. The NIBRS dataset,
which is growing to encompass an ever
larger number of jurisdictions nationwide,
is one resource that can help provide
some empirical perspective and should
continue to be analyzed for the insights it
can offer.

For Further Information
This Bulletin presents information taken
from the National Incident-Based Reporting
System, 2004.

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Office of Justice Programs
Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention

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Bulletin

Acknowledgments
This Bulletin was prepared by David Finkelhor, Ph.D., professor of sociology and
director, Crimes against Children Research Center, University of New Hampshire,
Durham, NH; Richard Ormrod, Ph.D., research professor, Crimes against Children
Research Center, University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH; and Mark Chaffin,
Ph.D., professor of pediatrics, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center,
Oklahoma City, OK.

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Points of view or opinions expressed in this
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