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Abstract

Juveniles represent approximately 20% of those arrested for sexual crimes in the United States each year and more than a third of those arrested for sexual crimes involving juvenile victims. Although researchers have determined this population to be heterogeneous, little is understood about typologies of juvenile sexual abusers (JSAs) according to their sexual offense characteristics or the possible relationship of their families, mental health, and nonsexual delinquency to such typologies. In the present study, I identified classes of JSAs according to their sexual crime characteristics and drew upon rational choice and social learning theories to help explain how these classes might be understood. Using data collected from male adolescents adjudicated for sexual offenses and living in secured residential facilities, this study was designed to address three specific questions: 1) Do latent classes of JSAs emerge based on sexual crime characteristics? 2) What is the relationship between classes of JSAs derived from their sexual crime characteristics with their family contexts, mental health, and concurrent delinquency? 3) Can JSAs be classified more broadly according to sexual crime characteristics, family contexts, mental health, and concurrent delinquency? The study included cross-sectional data from 573 JSAs, collected at multiple sites in two states over an eight-year period. Most grew up in households that were marked by high levels of exposure to antisocial activity and had two adults. Symptoms of depression were prevalent in the sample (37.2%), while few showed symptoms of anxiety at levels of clinical concern (12.9%). With respect to the first research question, four unique latent classes were successfully identified with sexual crime characteristics often explored in the JSA literature. For the second research question, classes of JSAs were distinguished by the presence of violent adults in the home, multiple moves and/or homelessness, anxiety, low attachment to mother, and violent delinquency. For the third question, a latent model could not be confidentially identified using fit statistics, although I found evidence to suggest that family contexts have the most profound influence on latent classes of JSAs when explored alongside sexual crime characteristics, mental health symptoms, and concurrent delinquency. The results of this dissertation have strong implications for the field of social work and future directions for research are suggested. The ability to identify distinct typologies on the basis of sexual crime characteristics marks an innovation to the field that strengthens how heterogeneity is framed in the etiology of JSAs. Results also highlight the important role of family and mental health in understanding subtypes of JSAs. Treatment implications underscore how families might be optimally considered in developing treatment strategies depending upon the typology of the JSA. Policy implications emphasize the importance of understanding typologies as they relate to appropriateness of consequences associated with juvenile sexual abusing.

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