Diploma in Child Protection Studies

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Diploma in Child Protection Studies 



 Child Matters  

Adolescent/Sibling Incest Perpetrators 



Although sexual offending is typically thought of as an adult crime, early studies determined that juvenile 

offending is also a problem (Doshay, 1943;  Groth, Hobson, Lucey, & Pierre, 1981;  Shoor, Speed, & 

Bartlet, 1966).  Recent studies also support a need to study this population.  In fact, Thomas and Rogers 

(1983) suggested that even though evidence strongly supports the view that intrafamilial sexual abuse 

occurs most often among persons of roughly the same generation, most literature and theory still focuses 

on father-daughter incest. 


This chapter attempts to narrow this gap in the literature.  The authors did a survey of juvenile offenders, 

which included 43 incest offenders who had been reported to the Illinois Department of Child and Family 

Services during 1986.  Because protective service agencies typically focus on abuse by family members 

or care givers, the majority of these cases involved siblings or other youth in the home.  This chapter 

reviews pertinent clinical findings and information relevant to the treatment of incestuous adolescents as 

well as pertinent observations made by the child protective service worker during the investigation. 


Definitions of Juvenile Offending 

Juvenile sexual offenders are youths under 18 who engage in sexual activities including exposure, genital 

fondling, oral, anal, and vaginal intercourse.  The juvenile offender uses some type of manipulation or 

coercion--either threats or implied power--to engage the victim.  Although many studies assume that the 

offender is older than the victim, some studies have shown that juvenile offenders are sometime younger 

than their victims (Pierce & Pierce, 1987). 


It is difficult to determine how many juvenile offences actually occur because, unless a rape is 

committed, the offence is classified under the general category of assault.  One-fifth to one-quarter of the 

rapes reported in the Uniform Crime Report are committed by individuals under 18 (Knopp, 1982).  

Twenty-three percent of these are committed by youths 14 and under.  Thomas and Rogers (1983) found 

that of all sexual abuse cases reported to the staff of their unit at Children’s Hospital National Medical 

Centre in Washington, D.D., 54% involved a juvenile offender, with over 40% of those offences involving a 

family member. 

It is even more difficult to determine the number of sibling offences that occur since these acts are often 

assumed to be experimentation or exploration and are not reported.  Studies on reported sexual abuse 

cases suggest sibling abuse ranges from 6% (Pierce & Pierce, 1985) to 33% (Thomas & Rogers, 1983) of 

the cases investigated.  De Young (1982) documented 5 cases of sibling incest in her sample of 80 

incest victims;  Meiselman (1978) found 11 cases of sibling incest compared to 38 of father-daughter 

incest;  and Finkelhor (1980) discovered that 12% of his sample were sexually involved with siblings, 

although he feels this is an underestimate. 


Sibling offences appear to fall into two categories.  One category generally begins early as a mutual 

exploration and may end as the children realise their behaviour is not appropriate.  If the relationship 

continues into adolescence, the siblings frequently have difficulty in subsequent sexual relationships, 

although Finkelhor (1980) did not find this to be true. 


The second category involves one sibling forcing another to engage in sexual activities (de Young, 1982).  

Sometimes the offender is being sexually abused by a parent or relative and is participating in a 

promiscuous family life-style (Pierce, 1987).  In other cases the offender may be copying the sexually 

precocious behaviour of abused siblings (de Young, 1982) or may be acting out other family problems. 


Due to cultural, ethnic, geographic, and individual differences among offenders, the notion of a typical 

offender becomes a relative issue.  Loredo (1982) warned that, before a label of offending is attached, 

the clinician should determine if the incest involves some aspect of victimisation, or two or more willing 

participants exhibiting some type of pathology. Longo and Groth (1983) categorised offenders into two 

groups:  passive and aggressive.  The behavioural dynamics of the passive offender (Shoor et al., 1966) 

are likely to be more subtle (i.e., touching or rubbing, exhibitionism, and compulsive masturbation).  In 

contrast, the aggressive adolescent offender’s behaviours are interwoven in the complex relationship 

between violence and sex.  These are the offenders who commit rape, engage in forced, same sex 

intercourse, or act out violent threats toward family members or friends. 

Description of Juvenile Offenders 


Diploma in Child Protection Studies 



 Child Matters  

The offenders, in this study, ranged in age from 4 to 16 years of age with an average 

age of 13.1 years.  Twenty percent of the victims were either sisters, stepsisters, or adoptive sisters.  

Nineteen percent were foster sisters, 16% were foster brothers, and 5% were brothers.  The rest were 

other relatives, friends, or children the juvenile was babysitting (caretakers).  Determination concerning 

family members and home conditions were taken from home study reports performed by child protective 

service workers during the assessment process. 


Eighty-one percent of the offenders in this survey were male and 67% were white.  The offender was 

usually the oldest child of his/her sex in the family (46% of the males and 13% of the females) or an only 



Several patterns of offending appeared:  Only 30% were involved in one known offence while 16% were 

involved in multiple, frequently occurring incidents.  In 30% of the cases, the offences occurred 

infrequently over a long period of time, and, in the final group, several offences occurred over a short 

period of time.  When there were multiple reports, the adolescents were older and described as more 

dysfunctional than in other categories.  These offenders were also more likely to be classified as 

delinquents by their protective service worker. 


The most frequent type of offence in which the juveniles in our study engaged was fondling (51%), with 

oral intercourse next (30%).  Other frequently occurring acts were vaginal intercourse (22%), attempted 

intercourse (19%), anal intercourse (19%), and exposure (19%).  Most often the offender used verbal 

threats to coerce the victim, but in many cases no specific type of force was mentioned, suggesting that 

perceived power is sufficient. 

Juveniles generally perpetrated against people who were younger.  In 46% of the cases the victim was at 

least 5 years younger.  In 13% of the cases the offender was 10 years older.  In 13% of the cases the 

offender and victim were close in age, but, in 22% of the cases, the offender was younger than the victim. 


Caseworkers described juveniles involved in this study as exhibiting many problems in their families and 

at school.  In fact, it is difficult to determine if the problems are the result of the offending or if the 

juvenile offences are in response to dysfunctional families.  In all probability, both play a role.  Fifty-four 

percent of the juvenile offenders studied were described as aggressive toward family members, half had 

been involved in delinquent acts, and half had academic problems.  Thirty-eight percent had other 

behaviour problems at home, such as running away, stealing from family members, or withdrawing.  

Thirty-eight percent had been placed in special classes in school, 30% had behavioural problems at 

school, and 14% was diagnosed as mentally retarded. 


Groth and Loredo (1981) described similar findings.  The offenders in their study were typically loners 

with little skill in “negotiating emotionally intimate peer relationships” (p. 38).  Moreover, low self esteem, 

coupled with deep-seated feelings of inadequacy and emptiness, contribute to the juvenile’s inability to 

handle life’s demands.  Shoor et al. (1966) discovered that, aside from being a loner, the juvenile 

offender prefers playing with younger children, tends to have a limited work history, and is generally 

immature in all areas of functioning. 


Many of the offenders in our study, as has been the pattern in some other studies, were sexually 

victimised themselves--an indication of learned violence.  Only three of the juveniles in our study were not 

reported as abused.  Forty-three percent had been sexually abused by family members, 5% by others.  

Eleven percent were exposed to inappropriate sexual behaviour, 63% were physically abused, and 70% 

were neglected.  Longo’s (1982) study shows that 47% of his subjects had been sexually assaulted in 

their childhood. 

Not only have these children been abused, family problems predominate.  Fifty-four percent of the 

juveniles’ parents were judged to be mentally ill by their caseworker during the initial intake in our study 

twenty-four percent of the parents were involved in substance abuse, and 15% were in prison.  Over half 

of the parents had financial problems, and almost half needed better housing.  In two families, children 

had died because of neglect. 


The researchers returned to the protective service agency approximately one year later to initiate a follow-

up study that would determine whether or not the juveniles continued to offend, what services were being 

used, and what services were lacking.  Six cases were closed by the agency and further information was 

unavailable.  Eight of the remaining 37 juveniles had reoffended, all of whom were male.  Females 


Diploma in Child Protection Studies 



 Child Matters  

continued to be involved sexually, but were no longer seen as the aggressor.  For 

example, a 13 year old was involved in prostitution.  Sexual offending was suspected but not 

substantiated in several other cases. 


At this point, it was possible to identify a pattern of reoffending among these eight juveniles.  One-fourth 

of them continued to be involved with younger girls, and one-fourth engaged in contact with same-sex 

peers.  Other exposed themselves, attempted rape, or were involved in several kinds of sexual activity.  

None of the reoffenders remained at home, although 38% were in foster care.  The rest were in 

residential care centres or detention.  Hopefully, caretakers in these settings are alerted and providing 

protection for other residents.  Half of the reoffenders had parents with mental problems, and 25% had 

parents in prison.  The caseworkers assessed that the reoffender’s mentally ill parents were more 

disturbed than those in the total sample. 


At the time of the follow-up, protective service workers felt the prognosis was fair or poor for almost 75% 

of the original juvenile offenders reported from their caseloads.  Many offenders continued to have 

problems and appeared to lack the social skills needed to make friends.  Workers frequently described 

these children as unlikable, which makes it even more difficult for them to receive help.  On the other 

hand, one of the most likeable adolescents in the study was judged recovered by his therapist and 

immediately began offending again. 



Although adolescents appear to be exploring and talking more openly about their sexuality today than in 

past decades (Parry-Jones, 1985), this seems to have had only minimal effect on how they are responded 

to within the treatment arena.  Perhaps treatment providers are not as accepting nor as open concerning 

these behaviours;  in other words, this is where the communication stops.  Since many parents and 

clinicians are themselves struggling with the issue of identifying what is typical or normal sexual 

behaviour and exploration among youth, the issue is frequently avoided.  Thus, the juveniles who seem 

overly anxious, frightened, and confused about their sexual development, thoughts, and activities find 

little or no help upon confiding in adults about  sexual matters.  When this is compounded by the 

knowledge that the child had indeed sexually abused another, confronting the issue may be even more 

difficult.  Juvenile offenders may threaten to abuse female therapists or may try to use seduction within 

the clinical setting.  They are often frightening and difficult to work with unless the therapist is 

comfortable with his/her sexuality and with discussing sexual matters. 


To juvenile offenders, sex represents the vehicle through which they give and receive attention.  In this 

sense sex, in and of itself, appears to be secondary to what is supposedly brings:  closeness, perceived 

caring, or importance.  Waggoner and Boyd (1941) pointed out that juvenile offenders are insecure 

children who engage in aberrant sexual behaviours to gain approval and to release tension and anxiety.  

Helping the adolescent offender redirect his/her strong sexual drives into socially acceptable and 

desirable channels is one of several treatment issues facing clinicians.  They also pointed out that 

offenders frequently reside in homes that are characterised as rejecting, tense, and unstable. 


When clinicians examine the multiplicity of problems facing juvenile offenders and their families, it 

becomes obvious that treatment must focus on several issues.  The family and the juvenile must be 

involved in treatment if the juvenile is to return home, especially if the victim is still in the home.  

Involvement of the  


family may be difficult because of the tendency to deny the abuse, but it is an integral component of most 

treatment programmes. 


Treatment begins with individual and group sessions for the offender.  During this time, the victim and 

family members are also seen, but this discussion will examine areas of concern in treatment of the 

juvenile.  Most programmes ask that the offender be removed from the home, at least during the initial 

phases of treatment (Thomas & Rogers, 1983).  Care must be taken to ensure that the youth is not 

placed with other vulnerable children, who, themselves, will perpetrate the abuse.  If the offender is 

placed in a foster home, the foster parents should be well-trained concerning the behaviours they may 

expect and the appropriate responses to those behaviours. 



Diploma in Child Protection Studies 



 Child Matters  

When working with the juvenile offender in a treatment setting, five interrelated areas 

that must be addressed are: 




the low feeling of self-esteem experienced by the offender



the offender’s own victimisation;  this can help the offender gain some empathy for the victim; 



the social isolation experienced by offenders;  they often have few social skills and few friends; 



that offenders need sex education;  they must learn acceptable ways of acting out their sexual 

feelings;  and 



that offenders need to learn their pattern of response and offending. 


Low self-esteem.  As has been noted, juvenile offenders frequently come from dysfunctional families.  

They have received little warmth or support from parents and are functioning at a much younger age 

developmentally than their chronological age would imply.  Therapy must supply or replace much of the 

structure and consistency missing in the youth’s life.  As the therapist supports the youth and encourages 

the youth to explore issues and change behaviour, the therapist can also point out those areas in which 

the youth is successful. 


The offender’s own victimisation.  A large number of juvenile offenders have been sexually victimised.  

Others have been physically abused and neglected.  The offender should be helped to acknowledge 

his/her feelings of anger, shame, and worthlessness.  The offender may also feel some responsibility for 

his/her abuse and may be attempting to overcome these feelings by abuse others.  Once offenders can 

accept their own victimisation, they can be helped to empathise with victims and they are more likely to 

feel remorse for their acts.  Groth (1982) cautioned that some offenders may become depressed when 

they reach this point. 


Social isolation.  As noted earlier, many juvenile offenders have few social skills.  They often need 

assertiveness training, as well as social skills training.  Many report difficulty in forming relationships and 

feel uncomfortable around the opposite sex.  In addition, they feel put down and ignored when trying to 

express their needs and often respond by being aggressive or passive (Long, 1983).  Group sessions are 

particularly helpful in this respect. 


Sex education.  Because most juvenile offenders come from families in which sex is either presented as 

something dirty or in which there are few sexual boundaries, most have little idea of what a loving sexual 

relationship involves.  They are used to taking what they want and have little concept that decisions can 

be made around sexual matters.  Adolescents who have been involved in same-sex abuse may wonder 

about their sexual orientation and will need help resolving this issue.  Most have minimal knowledge of 

anatomy and sexual response.  Sex education should start with basics and assume nothing. 


Patterns of response.  Each offender has a pattern of behaviour antecedent to incestuous activity.  It is 

important for him/her to recognise the behaviours that lead to the sexual offence and to find other ways 

to respond.  Many adolescents can be helped to understand the situations that result in sexual arousal 

and can develop alternative responses. 


After the juvenile offender has been in treatment for a while, usually longer than with other kinds of 

problems, the family can be seen together.  Thomas and Rogers (1983) described how this occurs in 

their pprogramme.  Because the family faces many situational/environmental problems as well, clinicians 

must also have access to community resources or must be willing to advocate for changes in the services 




Although juvenile sexual offending, particularly sibling abuse, appears to be the most common type of 

incest, the research and literature in this area have not yet caught up to that on father-daughter incest.  It 

does appear that juvenile offenders frequently reside in families where they receive minimal warmth and 

care.  Many offenders have been victimised themselves and, thus, have few social skills.  Findings also 

suggest that many offenders begin to have problems at an early age, but families and communities 

refuse to regard this behaviour as serious. 


To be successful in treating adolescent offenders, interventions must occur on several levels:  with the 

offender, the offender’s family, and the offender’s community.  With a greater understanding of the 


Diploma in Child Protection Studies 



 Child Matters  

offender’s problems, the clinical community will be better prepared to effectively 

intervene.  Suggestions for treatment will be developed as more juvenile offenders are being reported 

and mandated to receive treatment.  The classification and identification of these young offenders should 

be a high priority for treatment providers and researchers, eventually leading to more adequate 

treatment diagnosis with this population. 



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Doshay, L. (1943).  The boy sex offender and his later career.  New York:  Grove and Stratton. 

Finkelhor, D. (1980).  Sex among siblings:  A survey of the prevalence, variety and effects.  Archives of 

Sexual Behaviour, 9, 171-194. 

Groth, N. (1982).  The incest offender.  In S. Sgroi (Ed.), Handbook of clinical intervention in child sexual 

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Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 25, 31-39. 

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treatment (pp 177-197).  New York:  Van Nostrand Reinhold. 

Longo, R., & Groth, N. (1983).  Juvenile sexual offences in the histories of adult rapists and child 

molesters.  International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 27, 150-155. 

Loredo, C. (1982).  Sibling incest.  In S. Sgroi (Ed.), Handbook of clinical intervention in child sexual 

abuse (pp. 177-190).  Lexington, MA:  Lexington Books. 

Meiselman, K. (1978).  Incest:  A psychological study of causes and effects with treatment 

recommendations.  San Francisco:  Jossey-Bass. 

Parry-Jones, W. (1985).  Adolescent disturbance.  In M. Rutter & L. Hersov (Eds), Child and adolescent 

psychiatry:  Modern approaches (pp. 584-598).  London:  Blackwell Scientific. 

Pierce, L. (1987).  Father-son incest:  Using the literature to guide practice.  Social Casework, 68, 67-74. 

Pierce, L., & Pierce, R. (1987).  Incestuous victimisation by juvenile sex offenders.  Journal of Family 

Violence, 2, 351-364. 

Pierce, R., & Pierce, L. (1985).  Analysis of sexual abuse hotline reports.  Child Abuse and Neglect, 9, 37-


Thomas, J., & Rogers, C. (1983).  A treatment programme for intrafamily juvenile sexual offenders.  In J. 

Greer & I. Stuart (Eds), The sexual aggressor:  Current perspectives on treatment (pp 127-143).  New 

York:  Van Nostrand Reinhold. 

Shoor, M., Speed, M., & Bartlet, C. (1966).  Syndrome of the adolescent child molester.  The American 

Journal of Psychiatry, 122, 783-789. 

Waggoner, R., & Boyd, D. (1941).  Juvenile aberrant sexual behaviour.  American Journal of 

Orthopsychiatry, 11, 275-291. 

Lois H. Pierce & Robert L. Pierce The Incest Perpetrator. A Family No One Wants to Treat. 

Anne L. Horton, Barry L. Johnson, Lynn M. Roundy, Doran Williams (Eds)Sage Publications;  1990 


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