Juvenile Sexual Abusers: Typologies of Family Social Environment
Research on general delinquency often highlights the role of the family as a protective factor against deviant behaviors. Social learning theory (Bandura, 1997) suggests that delinquent behaviors are learned through modeling and socializing processes such the family environment. However, despite robust empirical evidence to support this for general delinquents, the taxonomies of juvenile sexual offenders’ families have not yet been identified in scientific literature. These young people are of high concern, as they exhibit greater levels of delinquency than general delinquents (Seto & Lalumiere, 2010; van Wijk et al., 2006), yet recognized as heterogeneous (Hunter et al., 2003; Zakireh, Rois & Knight, 2008), with much yet to be understood by investigators. Therefore, differentiating between subtypes of family social environment among juvenile sex offenders might be helpful in identifying key predictors of delinquency and developing effective intervention strategies.
Methods: A latent class analysis (LCA) was used to identify subtypes of negative family social environment among 332 male juvenile sex offenders, ages 12 to 20. The five indicators of family social environment used to generate the subtypes (i.e. classes) were based on a self-report checklist which asked participants to describe their family and/or home. Delinquent behaviors were assessed using Elliot, Huizinga and Ageton’s (1985) Self-Reported Delinquency (SRD) scale, which measured a range of delinquent behaviors on a continuous scale. Through a series of regression models, identified subtypes were used to predict levels of delinquency.
Results: Preliminary LCA analyses identified three subtypes of family social environment: 1) extremely negative family social conditions, indicated by high reports of all five indicators (23.3%); 2) many illegal acts, alcohol/drug problems and physical abuse within the family, but no children placed outside the family or homelessness (44.2%); 3) low reports of all five indicators (32.5%). Regression analyses suggested that juvenile sexual abusers from the subtype of extremely negative family social conditions are most predictive of delinquency, while the subtype of low reports of indicators is least predictive of delinquency.
Implications: Findings from this study suggest that subtypes of family social environment have differing outcomes on delinquency among youth sexual offenders. Interventions for this subgroup of highly delinquent youth might be optimized according to their family social environments.