In recent years, information about the widespread problems of sexual abuse have become more readily available and less secretive than ever before in Western culture history. Rape and molestation are reported on the news and to police agencies with a great deal more consistency than in decades past. Although the subject remains extremely taboo in most circles, it is widely known that tens of thousands of children in America alone are the victims of sexual abuse in some form. Not only are thousands of children being sexually abused, but many of these are permanently affected by the crimes against them and by a surrounding culture in which sexual coercion and violence are common. Because of this, many juveniles are becoming not only targets but also perpetrators of sexual violence. "Studies of adult sex offenders suggest another dimension of the problem: many of these offenders began their sexually abusive behavior in their youth." (Righthand & Welch, Executive Summary) In no other era have juveniles been so often perceived as (and active as) sexual predators. Today children, as well as adults, are responsible for rape, molestation, and other sexual offenses. This is especially true in places where children are exposed to extensive irresponsible sexuality in their daily lives, and where many children suffer from external socioeconomic situations and poor family arrangements. New Orleans, like many other large urban areas (especially those which are targets for sexually irresponsible tourists), has significant issues with sex offenses both against juveniles and those committed by juveniles.
Cases of juvenile sexual offenses prove to be a unique and challenging circumstance that must be carefully considered when choosing what course of action to take; even experts often "apply knowledge and interventions designed for adult offenders without considering developmental issues and needs unique to juveniles." (Righthand & Welch, Executive Summary)
It is important to understand the juvenile sexual offender as a being completely separate from adults who have committed related crimes.
There is no single type of person likely to be such an offender. "Juveniles who have committed sex offenses are a heterogeneous mix.... They differ according to victim and offense characteristics and a wide range of other variables." (Righthand & Welch, Executive Summary) It is common for the offenders to not only be involved in sexual crimes, but also non-sexual crimes. Offenses may range from those involving no physical contact whatsoever between abuser and victim, to those which actually include physical penetration. The age of the victims varies, as does the relationship between the offender and the victim, and the amount of coercion and/or violence that may be used to allow the sexual acts to be performed with the victim.
Studies have shown that there is an association between being sexually or otherwise physically abused as a child and the committing of sexual offenses while still a juvenile, and the witnessing of family violence and instability is also a contributing factor. "Factors such as family instability, disorganization, and violence have been found to be prevalent among juveniles who engage in sexually abusive behavior... many juvenile sex offenders have experienced physical and/or emotional separations from one or both of their parents." (Righthand & Welch, Executive Summary) Other forms of social isolation, such as those experienced by the individual with poor social skills and unsuccessful relationships with peers, are often noted in juveniles who commit sexual assault or other offenses. Another common, trait among juvenile sexual offenders according to some studies is that most of them have been shown to have experienced consenting sexual activities prior to any non-consenting incidents which take place, and these sexual encounters may have been more numerous on average than peers who do not become sexual offenders.
Righthand & Welch, Executive Summary) However, it is also suggested by some studies that said consenting experiences may have involved a form of sexual dysfunction such as impotence (the inability to maintain an erection) or premature ejaculation. Sexual offenders tend to have a less positive outlook on sexuality than non-offenders. "A study of 1,600 juvenile sex offenders from 30 States (Ryan et al., 1996) found that only about one-third of the juveniles perceived sex as a way to demonstrate love or caring for another person; others perceived sex as a way to feel power and control (23.5%), to dissipate anger (9.4%), or to hurt, degrade, or punish (8.4%)." (Righthand & Welch, Executive Summary)
There is not one single act which is considered to be a "sexual offense:" there are a wide range of behaviors which are often classified together. Some, but very little, research has gone into actually categorizing juvenile sexual offenses according to more specific determining factors. Examples of categorizations include those by O'Brien and Bera ("naive experimenters, undersocialized child exploiters, sexual aggressives, sexual compulsives, disturbed impulsives, group influenced, and pseudosocialized,") Graves ("pedophilic, sexual assault, and undifferentiated,") and Prentky et al. ("child molesters, rapists, sexually reactive children, fondlers, paraphilic offenders, and unclassifiable.") (Righthand & Welch, Executive Summary) This inconsistent classifying and defining of juvenile sexual offenses is yet another obstacle that stands in the way of comprehending, addressing, and successfully treating the offenders and victims alike.
New Orleans is a city where crime is far from uncommon, and it is well-known for the lack of traditional morality that is perceived as rampant. In 2001 and 2002, there were over seventy thousand reported crimes in the city of New Orleans, and over ten thousand incidents of violent crime were reported to the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD). Among those violent crimes, there were approximately 370 reported cases of rape in New Orleans. (NOPD)
Of course, many incidents of rape go unreported due to the shame and fear that victims experience after such an attack, so the number of actual rapes and sexual assaults can be assumed to be much higher. Surrounded by such a criminalized environment, not to mention the explicit and promiscuous sexual behavior that is entirely woven into the self-promoted public image of the city itself, juveniles may be at particular risk for experiencing or witnessing sexual offenses.
Legally, the definitions of sexual offenses vary between states. Offenses are generally categorized in terms of "a) penetration offenses, which include penetration of virtually any body orifice for a sexual purpose, and are felonies; and b) crimes not involving physical contact (e.g. voyeurism, exhibitionism, obscene phone calls). Such offenses progress from privacy issues at the misdemeanor level to the felony level... physical force or coercion will almost always result in a felony life offense." (Dannison) The laws relating to juvenile sexual offenses are typically categorized in the same manner as adult ones. Due to the fact that prisons seldom provide rehabilitations, sexual offenders and sexually violent predators pose continued risk after they have been released. Because of this Louisiana requires most sexual offenders to register. Anyone who commits one of a large number of offenses against anyone except their own child has to register as a sex offender. "A person convicted of any of the following offenses when the victim is under the age of 18 and the defendant is not the parent of the victim is a sex offender and also a child predator." (LSB) These offenses include rape, kidnapping, sexual battery, and incest; it seems that Louisiana including offenses against one's own child would be beneficial in the fight against juvenile sexual offenses in New Orleans and elsewhere.
Juvenile sexual offenses are statistically surprising. "Adolescents under the age of 18 account for 20% of arrests for all sexual offenses (excluding prostitution.)" (Dannison, et al.) Of these offenses in 1995, up to 16% of the arrests were for forcible rape. (Righthand & Welch, Foreword) Approximately half of all sexual offenses against boys, and up to one fifth of all sexual offenses against girls, may be committed by juveniles. (Focus) A majority of adult sexual offenders began as minors, and studies show that 42% of adult pedophiles were committing sexual offenses before the age of 12. (Focus) Over 90% of adolescent sex offenders are male, however there remains a significant number of female offenders. Females are actually about as likely to commit a sexual offense against a brother as a male would be. "20% of sex offenses against male siblings are committed by sisters, compared to 21% for brothers." (Focus) Close to 15% of adolescent sexual offenses occur on school property (Focus), and "the most likely hour for a kid to commit sexual assault is between 3 p.m. And 4 p.m. On a school day." (Reckdahl)
There are a number of issues which may be skewing these statistics, and which should be considered. Perhaps the most obvious issue is that an unknown number of sexual abuse situations go unreported for various reasons. Many victims may never tell anyone, and of those that do confide in family members, doctors, or counselors may never report the abuse to the police. What is also important to realize, however, is that some cases of reported abuse may not necessarily be abusive at all. Some victims and some perpetrators have suggested that…