In its cover story Sunday, the New York Times Magazine considers the issue of how best to deal with juveniles with sexual problems. Juveniles account for about one-quarter of the sex offenses in the U.S., and the contemporary low-tolerance attitude toward those crimes has left the impression that it is a growing problem. But David Finkelhor, the director of Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, said those statistics largely reflect increased reporting of juvenile sex offenses and adjudications of less serious offenses. “We are paying attention to inappropriate sexual behavior that juveniles have engaged in for generations,” he said.
The significant controversy isn't whether there is a problem; it's how to address it. In other words, when is parental or therapeutic intervention enough? What kind of therapy works best? And at what point should the judicial system get involved – and in what ways? Experts have increasingly advocated for a less punitive approach. Over the past decade, however, public policy has largely moved in the opposite direction. Courts have handed down longer sentences to juveniles for sex offenses, while some states have created tougher probation requirements and, most significant, lumped adolescents with adults in sex-offender legislation.