Comparing sex offending and conduct disordered youth: The role of family
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Juvenile sex offending is a serious and growing problem in the United States, and has significant mental health and financial repercussions. Yet, to date, the etiology of this behavior has not been ascertained. The present study was designed to address the precipitating factors leading to this deviant behavioral pathway, with a particular focus on the role of the family environment.;Archival data were used to compare two major aspects of family functioning in two groups of approximately 50 male juveniles: those with conduct disorders (nonsexual offending behavior) and adjudicated sex offenders. Twelve family variables were assessed, including one group of family variables focusing on familial violence (e.g., domestic violence, physical abuse of child) and another group focusing on the sexual aspects of the family (e.g., child or parent victim of sexual abuse, parent as perpetrator of sexual abuse, sexualized environment).;Analyses revealed that, overall, sex offenders experience both inappropriate sexuality and violence in their family environments to a greater degree than do conduct-disordered youth. It was found that fifty-six percent of the juvenile sex offenders lived in a sexualized environment (e.g., sexually provocative parents, exposure to pornography) while only 4 percent of the conduct-disordered youth had this same experience. In the area of familial violence, 44 percent of the juvenile sex offenders had witnessed domestic violence versus 26 percent of the conduct-disordered youth, and a history of physical abuse was also more prevalent in the sex-offending group. However, discriminant function analyses revealed that only the sex-related variables were predictive of sex-offending group membership: violence did not add to the prediction of group membership. Further examination, via a factor analysis, supported this finding.;Collectively, these findings indicate that although sex offenders experience more domestic violence and physical abuse than do conduct-disordered youth, it is the sex offenders' greater exposure to inappropriate sexuality that distinguishes them from conduct-disordered youth. Discussion focuses on the nature of this inappropriate sexual exposure, and whether a combination of inappropriate sexuality and exposure to violence is necessary to produce adolescent sex-offending behavior.