Sexually inappropriate behavior by minors must be addressed, but youngsters should be treated differently than adults. Doing so serves the best interests of the child and the community. Adolescents are continually changing, developing and learning, so it should be no surprise that they are more open to treatment and rehabilitation. At the same time, they could also learn other inappropriate behavior that could cause recidivism or further affect their ability to lead healthy and productive lives.
Children think differently
It’s more than a matter of right and wrong. Scientific evidence shows that teens’ cognitive abilities are different. As many exasperated parents will tell you, adolescents have greater difficulty with:
- Their capacity for self-management and regulation
- They are more susceptible to social and peer pressure
- They can have the inability to use good judgment.
- They are more apt to engage in risky behavior.
- They often cannot plan ahead or anticipate future consequences.
Their offending behavior is also different
Not only do youth think differently, but adolescents also act differently. Research has found that:
- Their sexual behavior is more often less aggressive or dangerous.
- Their sexual behavior is not fixed in place.
- An arrest on these charges is a one-time event for 90% of them (the recidivism rate among juvenile sex offenders is only 5-14% versus 8-58% for other delinquent behavior).
- Only 8% of their behavior would qualify as pedophilia under the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic criteria.
- Approximately 40-80% are victims of sexual abuse, and 25-50% are victims of physical abuse.
- Community notification often exacerbates the situation.
Penalties have a more significant negative impact
Some believe that it is best to “teach them a lesson,” the nature of the adolescent rarely responds positively to severe and long-lasting penalties. In fact, the damage can lead to long-term repercussions like being denied educational, employment and housing opportunities.
With all this in mind, parents or guardians need to secure a criminal defense attorney who can work with the court to find a viable and less harmful solution. It can have a life-changing impact on the defendant and their family.