Facts and Myths About Sexual Offenders

The following is from and article developed by the center for sex offender management, published in August 2000. It can help with questions you may have at this time.

There are many misconceptions about sexual offenses, sexual offense victims, and sex offenders in our society. Much has been learned about these behaviors and populations in the past decade and this information is being used to develop more effective criminal justice interventions throughout the country. This document serves to inform citizens, policy makers, and practitioners about sex offenders and their victims, addressing the facts that underlie common assumptions both true and false in this rapidly evolving field.

Myth: Most sexual assaults are committed by strangers.

Fact: Most sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the victim or the victim’s family, regardless of whether the victim is a child or an adult.

Child Victims:
Approximately 60% of boys and 80% of girls who are sexually victimized are abused by someone known to the child or the child’s family (Lieb, Quinsey, and Berliner, 1998). Relatives, friends, baby-sitters, persons in positions of authority over the child, or persons who supervise children are more likely than strangers to commit a sexual assault.

Myth: Youths do not commit sex offenses.

Fact: Adolescents are responsible for a significant number of rape and child molestation cases each year.

Sexual assaults committed by youth are a growing concern in this country. Currently, it is estimated that adolescents (ages 13 to 17) account for up to one-fifth of all rapes and one- half of all cases of child molestation committed each year (Barbaree, Hudson, and Seto, 1993). In 1995, youth were involved in 15% of all forcible rapes cleared by arrest- approximately 18 adolescents per 100,000 were arrested for forcible rape. In the same year, approximately 161,000 adolescents were arrested for sexual offenses, excluding rape and prostitution (Sickmund, Snyder, Poe-Yamagata, 1997).

The majority of these incidents of sexual abuse involve adolescent male perpetrators however, prepubescent youths also engage in sexually abusive behaviors.

Myth: Juvenile sex offenders typically are victims of child sexual abuse and grow up to be adult sex offenders.

Fact: Multiple factors, not just sexual victimization as a child, are associated with the development of sexually offending behavior in youth.

Recent studies show that rates of physical and sexual abuse vary widely for adolescent sex offenders; 20 to 50% of these youth experienced physical abuse and approximately 40 to 80% experienced sexual abuse (Hunter and Becker, 1998). While many adolescents who commit sexual offenses have histories of being abused, the majority of these youth do not become adult sex offenders (Becker and Murphy, 1998). Research suggests that the age of onset and number of incidents of abuse, the period of time elapsing between the abuse and its first report, perceptions of how the family responded to the disclosure of abuse, and exposure to domestic violence all are relevant to why some sexually abused youths go on to sexually perpetrate while others do not (Hunter and Figueredo, in press).

Myth: Treatment for sex offenders is ineffective.

Fact: Treatment programs can contribute to community safety because those who attend and cooperate with program conditions are less likely to re-offend than those who reject intervention.

The majority of sex offender treatment programs in the United States and Canada now use a combination of cognitive-behavioral treatment and relapse prevention (designed to help sex offenders maintain behavioral changes by anticipating and coping with the problem of relapse). Offense specific treatment modalities generally involve group and/or individual therapy focused on victimization awareness and empathy training, cognitive restructuring, learning about the sexual abuse cycle, relapse prevention planning, anger management and assertiveness training, and social and interpersonal skills development.

Different types of offenders typically respond to different treatment methods with varying rates of success. Treatment effectiveness is often related to multiple factors, including:

  • The type of sexual offender (e.g., incest offender or rapist)
  • The treatment model being used (e.g., cognitive-behavioral, relapse prevention, psycho-educational, psycho-dynamic, or pharmacological)
  • The treatment modalities being used
  • Related interventions involved in probation and parole community supervision

Several studies present optimistic conclusions about the effectiveness of treatment programs that are empirically based, offense-specific, and comprehensive (Lieb, Quinsey, and Berliner, 1998). The only meta-analysis of treatment outcome studies to date has found a small, yet significant treatment effect-an 8% reduction in the recidivism rate for offenders who participated in treatment (Hall, 1995). Research also demonstrates that sex offenders who fail to complete treatment programs are at increased risk for both sexual and general recidivism (Hanson and Bussiere, 1998).

Adult and Juvenile Sex Offenders Statistics

Sexual Assault Statistics:

  • 1995 estimates indicate that 260,300 rapes and attempted rapes and nearly 95,000 sexual assaults and threats of sexual assault were committed against persons 12 years of age or older (Greenfeld, 1997).
  • In 1998, 20,608 arrests were made for forcible rape and 62,045 arrests were made for other sexual offenses (FBI, 1998).
  • 43% of all rapes/sexual assaults occur between 6 p.m. and midnight.
  • Six out of every 10 rapes/sexual assaults occur in the homes of victims, family members, or friends (Greenfeld, 1997).
  • Sexual assault victimization’s are highest among young adults between the ages of 16 and 19, low income individuals, and urban residents (Greenfeld, 1997).

Characteristics of Adult and Juvenile Sex Offenders

Characteristics Of Juvenile Sex Offenders:

  • Juvenile sex offenders are typically between the ages of 13 and 17
  • They are generally male
  • 30-60% exhibit learning disabilities and academic dysfunction
  • Up to 80% have a diagnosable psychiatric disorder
  • Many have difficulties with impulse control and judgment
  • 20-50% have histories of physical abuse
  • 40-80% have histories of sexual abuse

Acknowledgements, Contact, and References

The Center for Sex Offender Management (CSOM) would like to thank Rob Freeman-Longo for principal authorship of this brief. We would also like to thank Donna Reback for her contributions to this document. Kristin Littel and Scott Matson edited the document.

Center for Sex Offender Management
8403 Colesville Rd., Suite 720 Silver Spring, MD 20910
Phone: (301) 589-9383
Fax: (301) 589-3505
E-mail: askcsom@csom.org
Internet: www.csom.org


Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers, “Reducing Sexual Abuse through Treatment and Intervention with Abusers,” Policy and Position Statement (Beaverton, OR, 1996).

Barbaree, H., Hudson, S., and Seto, M., “Sexual Assault in Society: The Role of the Juvenile Offender,” in H. Barbaree, W. Marshall, and S. Hudson (Eds.), The Juvenile Sex Offender (1 993): 1 0-1 1.

Becker, J. and Murphy, W., “What We Know and Don’t Know about Assessing and Treating Sex Offenders,” Psychology, Public Policy and Law 4 (1998)t 116-137.

Bureau of Justice Statistics, “Criminal Offender Statistics: Summary Findings,” available on BJS website (www.ojp.usdoj.govibjs)

Center for Sex Offender Management, “Understanding Juvenile Sexual Offending Behavior: Emerging Research, Treatment Approaches, and Management Practices” (Silver Spring, MD, 2000).

Federal Bureau of Investigations, “Uniform Crime Reports for the United States, 1997,” U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, DC.

Federal Bureau of Investigations, “Uniform Crime Reports for the United States, 1998,” U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, DC.

Greenfeld, L., “Sex Offenses and Offenders: An Analysis of Data on Rape and Sexual Assault,” U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics (Washington, DC, 1997).

Greenfeld, L., “Alcohol and Crime: An Analysis of National Date on the Prevalence of Alcohol Involvement in Crime,” National Symposium on Alcohol Abuse and Crime, U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics (Washington, DC, April 5- 7, 1998).

Hall, G.C.N., “Sex Offender Recidivism Revisited: A Meta-Analysis of Recent Treatment Studies,”Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 63(1995):802-

Hanson, R. and Bussim, M., ‘Predicting Relapse: A Meta-Analysis of Sexual Offender Recidivism Studies,” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 66 (1998): 348-364.

Hunter, J. and Becker, J., “Motivators of Adolescent Sex Offenders and Treatment Perspectives,” In J. Shaw (Ed.), Sexual Aggression, American Psychiatric Press, Inc. (Washington, DC, 1998).

Hunter, J. and Figueredo, A., “The Influence of Personality and History of Sexual Victimization in the Prediction of Offense Characteristics of Juvenile Sex Offenders,” Behavior Modification (in press)

Kilpatrick, D., Edmunds, C., and Seymour, A., “Rape in America: A Report to the Nation,” National Victim Center (Arlington, VA, 1992)

Lieb, R., Quinsey, V., and Berliner, L., “Sexual Predators and Social Policy,” in M. Tonry (Ed.), Crime and Justice (University of Chicago, 1 998): 4 3-11 4.

Lotka, E., “Sex Offenders: Does Treatment Work?” Corrections Compendium 21 (1996).

Quinsey, V., Rice, M., and Harris, G., “Actuarial Prediction of Sexual Recidivism,” Journal of Interpersonal Violence 10 (1995): 85-105.

Sickmund, M., Snyder, H., and Poe-Yamagata, E., “Juvenile Offenders and Victims: 1997 Update on Violence,” Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (Washington, DC, 1997).

Tjaden, P. and Thoennes, N., “Prevalence, Incidence, and Consequences of Violence Against Women: Findings from the National Violence Against Women Survey,” U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice (Washington, DC, 1998).