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Journal Article


Awad GA, Saunders EB. J. Interpers. Violence 1991; 6(4): 446-460.


(Copyright © 1991, SAGE Publishing)






VioLit summary:

The goal of this article by Awad and Saunders was to assess the demographic and individual characteristics of male adolescent sexual assaulters and to examine the roles of factors such as physical and sexual abuse, delinquency, psychopathology, family dysfunction, and sexual deviance in their offending.

A quasi-experimental methodology was employed using clinical assessments, psychological testing, and questionnaires to study 49 male sexual assaulters who had participated in the Toronto Family Court Clinic between 1980 and 1988. These youths were referred by courts and probation officers and had been convicted of a sexual offense with physical contact between victim and offender with a victim at least 4 years old. The clinical data that were collected included a minimum of two individual interviews, psychological testing (Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children--Revised, Rorschach, and Thematic Apperception Test), two parent interviews, and one family interview. After the assessment, a 401 item questionnaire was administered to the youth. Validity for demographic data and school, medical, psychiatric, and delinquency history was checked with available information; family information was not able to be verified. Data was recorded independently by research assistants working from clinical charts. Coding disputes were solved with consultation with clinicians or the authors. This group of adolescent sex offenders was compared with two other samples. One group was comprised of 24 male juvenile delinquents (non-sex offenders) matched for age and social class with the first 24 sex offenders in the study. The second comparison group was comprised of 45 child molesters. Chi-square and one-way ANOVA were used to analyze the data.

The 49 adolescent sex offenders ranged in age from 11-16 (mean=14). 26 were born in Canada, 13 were Black youth from the West Indies, and 10 were from Europe or South America. There were significantly fewer adolescent sex offenders from Canada than in the comparison groups.The assaulters came from significantly larger families than the delinquents, but this did not differ from the molesters. Middle class backgrounds were overrepresented as compared to other delinquents referred to the clinic. All three groups were often separated from their parents with less than half of the assaulters living with both parents at the time of the assessment. 25% of the assaulters' mothers had a history of depression, two had committed suicide, two had histories of psychotic symptoms, and five had abused their children. A third of the fathers had a history of alcohol abuse, and a tenth had histories of drug abuse. One father had committed suicide; one had a history of psychotic symptoms, and four had abused their children. There was no difference between the sexual assaulters and the delinquents in their histories of sexual abuse. Past sexual victimization was significantly higher among the child molesters. In IQ testing, the delinquents were significantly higher than the assaulters in verbal, performance, and full scale IQ scores which ranged from 92-100. The molesters scored lower than the delinquents but scored significantly higher than the assaulters in performance and full scale IQ. The assaulters' IQ's were the lowest with scores of 82 for verbal, 90 for performance, and 85 for full scale IQ. Over half of the assaulters and delinquents had a history of chronic academic and/or behavioral problems at school; the molesters had significantly more difficulties than these two groups. Assaulters and delinquents were significantly less likely to report social isolation than the molesters (p<.01). Alcohol abuse was significantly less likely in the assaultive group than the delinquent group. The majority of all three groups had histories of antisocial behavior but did not differ significantly between them. Eleven of the boys who had histories of antisocial behavior had committed more than one sexual offense. Thirteen of the boys had immediate family members who had been in trouble with the law and who generally condoned the boys' antisocial behavior including encouraging the boys to not back down from fights to accepting the sexual offenses as something that boys do or placed blame on victims. The majority of all three groups (over 70%) were found to show signs of moderate to severe maladjustment. This was defined as "marginal adjustment at school and home (moderate)" and "unable to function in a regular classroom, behavior difficult to control at home, seen as disturbed by school, psychiatric, or social agency (severe)" (p. 454). Comparisons of victims between the adolescent assaulters and the molesters revealed that the molesters were significantly more likely to repeatedly molest the victim, have male victims, and to demonstrate the first sexually deviant behavior prior to age 12. The adolescent assaulters were significantly more likely to have several victims and to use or threat violence. The majority of the offenders (61%) had a history of previous sexual offenses. Two thirds of these offenders repeated the same type of offense, and the other third had committed a variety of offenses. 40% of the molesters had a prior history of child molestation which usually involved the same victim over a prolonged period of time. 13 of the sexually assaultive boys came from families in which sexual deviance was known. None of the subjects met the criteria of paraphilia, as defined by DSM-III-R. 13 adolescents showed signs of sexual deviance. There were some cases reported of peer group pressure which disinhibited the boy and allowed him to act uncharacteristically. The authors stated that the findings were consistent with the literature with the exception of the following: 1) the few cases of past sexual victimization among the assaulters and 2) the lack of evidence of whether the sexual assaults were committed under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

This study makes some contributions in our understanding of the uniqueness and commonness of adolescent sexual offenders in comparison to their older and non-sexually assaultive, delinquent counterparts. This study, though, should be taken with caution. First, as the authors also point out, the sample of adolescent males includes only those that have been referred to a program by the courts and probation officers. This cannot be taken as representative of all sexual offenders as many have not entered into the justice system. Also, these offenders were taken from Canada; there may not be strong generalizability of results to American youth. The analysis done merely finds differences between the groups. More analysis needs to be done to determine real etiology. This study is to be commended for moving beyond simple clinical observations and systematically analyzing clinical assessments and other data.

(CSPV Abstract - Copyright © 1992-2007 by the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence, Institute of Behavioral Science, Regents of the University of Colorado)

Juvenile Offender
Juvenile Male
Male Violence
Male Offender
Juvenile Violence
Sexual Assault Offender
Clinical Approach
Offender Characteristics
Demographic Factors
Violence Causes
Sexual Assault Causes
Family Relations
Domestic Violence
Domestic Violence Effects
Child Abuse Victim
Child Male
Child Abuse Effects
Juvenile Delinquency
Delinquency Effects
Juvenile Sexual Behavior
Cultural Deviance

Language: en


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