Juvenile delinquency is increasingly becoming a major concern in society. The involvement of the youth in criminal activities has taken its toll as they get more exposure to violence through the media and peer influence. An emerging trend in this category is adolescent sexual offences among teenagers (Hardill, et al, 2001, 59). However, addressing this issue calls for a comprehensive approach that takes into account the various forms of sexual offences and the wide range of contributing factors.
The paper explores the application of the Cycle of Abuse Theory in working with adolescent sexual offenders. The Cycle of Abuse is a social theory formulated by Lenore Walker in 1970 to explain the inherent patterns observed in an abusive relationship (Walker, 2000, 204). The theory of The Cycle of Abuse stipulates that abusive relationships are often cyclic, i. e. they take place in a recurring pattern. The theory identifies three stages or phases of abuse. While these phases do not necessarily follow a linear and definite predictable pattern, they more or less exhibit the following phenomenology:
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Phase one- normalcy. At first, everything seems to be fine. This is normally during the initial stages of a relationship, when both parties show genuine commitment to the relationship. In fact, the stage is also referred to as ‘the honeymoon period. ’ However, as time goes by, one partner, especially the abuser, adopts a negative attitude. In some cases, an undesirable character trait previously restrained, such being short tempered or a predilection to violence begins to emerge. Phase two- Tension building.
The atmosphere in the relationship tends to be strained, making mutual interaction between both parties characteristically cold, constrained and generally ineffective. Signs of tension include poor communication, verbal abuse and shifting blames for minor mistakes. The situation is so delicate such that it requires only a slight provocation for the abuser’s emotions to snap. Phase three- explosion. This is the point at which the actual abuse takes place. The abuser’s violent flares are triggered by flimsy excuses, such as the victim being late in preparing dinner (in cases of spouse abuse).
However, one limitation of Lenor’s theory is its emphasis on physical abuse. While physical violence is the common form of abuse, recent studies have indicated that psychological and emotional torture could affect victims even more than the bruises they suffer in physical confrontations. Phase four- reconciliation. After the climax of actual abuse, the abuser takes a reconciliatory stance and apologizes for his/her actions. It is characterized by promises that it will not be repeated, and they might go an extra mile to please the victim- buying them gifts or taking them out.
As the last phase of the cyclic phenomenon, the apologetic and the friendly mood displayed by the abuser persuades the victim to forget the abuse and consequently, the relationship returns to a state of normalcy. An adolescent sexual offender is defined as “a youth, from puberty to the legal age of majority, who commits any sexual act with a person of any age, against the victims will, without consent, or in an aggressive, exploitive or threatening manner” (Tolan and Cohler, 1993, 115). However, dealing with cases of juvenile offenders is complicated due to popular ideologies that make young offenders victims of circumstances.
For instance, rape in some cases is rationalized on the precipice that “‘boys-will-be-boys’ and punished by a slap on the hand and admonitions to ‘behave,’ while cases of teens sexually molesting children are euphemized as “‘curiosity’ or ‘experimentation,’ and many sexual offenses termed as ‘adolescent adjustment reactions’” (Ryan et al, 1987). Consequently, the failure to clearly identify a juvenile as a sex offender has led to a tendency to ignore early warning symptoms and the “deviant nature of sexual assaults by teenagers” (Ryan, et al, 1987).
Nonetheless, adolescent sexual offences continue to rise and its effects are plainly as far-reaching as those perpetrated by adults are. This has led to increasing concerns on teenage behaviors in relation to sexual crimes. What is not lost to both sides of the argument, however, is the fact that behavioral tendencies exhibited in childhood will continue into adulthood if no intervention measures are taken to change these habits. In working with adolescent sexual offenders towards their rehabilitation, intervention measures aims to achieve behavioral change and minimizing situations that could lead to abuse.
At the same time, rehabilitation attempts to cut the cyclic pattern to avoid repetition of the same offences. In this regard, the Abuse Cycle Theory’s relevance is in its recognition of the recurrent nature of abuse. Research studies have shown that “for the victims of abuse, the abuse may produce either a learned helplessness or a repetitive aggressiveness” (Ryan et al, 1987). In addition, the theory identifies the various factors that promote abuse such as attitude, as well as the various forms the abuse could take.
In the case of sexual offenses, abuse is not limited to actual acts of forced sex alone, but includes other forms such as fondling of the victim’s private parts. APPLICATION OF THE ABUSE CYCLE THEORY Adolescent sexual offences assume a cyclic pattern. It begins in early childhood among boys “with voyeuristic behaviors from ages five to seven, including attempts to their grandmother and mother using the bathroom or taking showers” (Sandy, 1987). The unusualness of this behavior is because the minors’ interest in nudity underlies sexual motives or desires.
The report in The International Journal on adolescent sexual offenders says that it could be only normal if they involve “the curiosity of an 18 to 30-month-old who is interested in learning how adults do everything from baking cookies to driving the car, and including use of the bathroom” (Ryan et al 1987). However, the habits should subside at age five, for by then the child has learned bathroom manners. The gravitation toward sexual violence among young boys begins at this stage, when their consciousness could direct their behaviors with some ulterior motives.
In the context of the Cycle of Abuse Theory, this could be a calm stage, but there is a building up of tension- the sexual desires exhibited by the minor’s obsession to see nude females. In a case study on juvenile sexual offences, one respondent, a minor on a rehabilitation program, confessed that it started with “observing the babysitter having sex with her boyfriend, and it was followed with a habit of assaulting girls in the school grounds, with a motivation to actually frighten, control, and degrade them” (Huttenlocker, 2007). The next phase in a minor’s progression towards sexual violence sets in even as early as nine years.
Very conscious that what they are doing is inappropriate, they make their acts to look like accidental incidences. A teenage boy under a juvenile program said that his first intrusive behaviors began with a desire to touch female private parts when playing in crowds, and secretly watching out for girls. It marked the beginning of his conscious motives to stalk girls, leading to his cyclic sexual violence. It soon developed into an aggressive form of harassment, at age 11, which involved “grabbing the chests and butts of female classmates, threatening them with sexual acts” (Ryan, et al, 1987).
By the time he was 12, he had identified four girls whom he would continually harass by touching their genitalia. The Cycle of Abuse Theory’s explanation of the different forms that an abuse could take reflects the minor’s habit to send obscene messages and making calls to his victims. In this regard, a comprehensive treatment therapy for young sexual offenders should take an approach that addresses the various stages of the abuse cycle. Since the abuse itself takes different forms, the treatment therapy should be multifaceted in its approach, addressing the following issues.
Sex Education: The initial stages of sexually offensive behaviors are characterized with an aspect of ignorance. In this light, it is vital to equip minors with information about sexual behaviors, which could ‘slip off’ into violent, abusive habits. A research study by the National Clearinghouse on Sexual Violence reports that lack of knowledge and appropriate information regarding sexual behaviors contributes greatly to sexual offenses. Accordingly, there is need to “provide education courses in school with a focus on positive sexuality, addressing the issues of consent, equality and coercion” (Kaplan et al, 1988, 190).
It should also include teaching sexual assault victims ways of resolving their feelings concerning the abuse, in order to minimize their chances of becoming future offenders. The motive for revenge is identified in the Cycle of Abuse Theory as one factor that compels abusers to mistreat their victims. Likewise, sexually assaulted children are likely to find an emotional outlet by violating others. Abuse of Trust and Power: As noted before, sexually abused children could avenge their experiences on others.
To avoid such occurrences, it calls for exemplary behaviors on the part of adults who relate and interact with young children. When adults, especially pedophiles, abuse their power and the trust of children to exploit them sexually, they sow seeds of hatred, rejection and a desire to ‘hit out’ at others. Such perpetrators often try to “escape accountability for exploiting their relationship of trust with a child or adolescent on flimsy excuses such as ‘I was drunk when I did it’ or ‘It is normal for children to be sexual- I was teaching her about sex’” (Duncan, 14).
Abuse of children by adults could also shape their mentality as a way of expressing their dominance. This poses the danger of conditioning their notions about sex as a way to “accomplish masculinity and overcome experiences of powerlessness” (Ritcher, et al, 2004, 104). Joint work and Relapse Prevention: This is the most crucial part as it involves helping the ex-abusers to be assimilated into a normal social life as well as preventing them from slipping back to their offensive behaviors.
It includes various therapies such as “young mentoring, in-home family therapy, human sexuality education, parent support groups and ‘safe-out of home’ placement in the community” (Marsh and Fristad, 330). It helps the recovering patients to develop coping skills and relapse-prevention mechanisms to enable them assume normal lives. Previous research studies which sought to find out the motivational drive of sexually aggressive behaviors in men, have established a tendency of being compelled by the urge to meet sexual desires (Lenn, 1994).
Snell et al (1992) reported sexual compulsivity, similar to a research by Exner et al (1992), which noted lack of sexual control as the major cause of uncontrolled sexual activity. In this regard, it is therefore imperative to educate ex-offenders on ways to overcome their sexual drives, which nearly always culminates in rape and other sexual offences (Erooga and Masson, 1999, 27). In Understanding and Diagnosing Sex Addiction, John Schneider identifies compulsive sexual behaviors as addictive disorders like those of drug abuse (Schneider 2004 198).
This insight helps in singling out incidences of juvenile sexual offences that result as the abuser’s inability to resist psychological and physical sex drives. It is important to distinguish victims of circumstances and situation from out-right perpetrators, to design appropriate treatment therapies. Nonetheless, a very crucial aspect of rehabilitating juvenile sexual offenders is widening the scope of treatment to include other factors, which could be directly related to sexual violence. Some studies have shown that there is a correlation between drug use and juvenile sexual offences (O’Reilly, 2004, 81).
In fact, Schneider considers the path to sexual addiction to be similar to that of a drug addict: habit developing into a behavior and finally addiction. In light of the tenets of the Cycle of Abuse Theory, this suggests that sometimes individuals could not control their behaviors. Circumstances and the environment could trigger impulsive behaviors that are sexually offensive. For instance, playing in crowded grounds offers an opportunity for budding offenders to touch their victims’ private parts.
This is similar to abuses in relationships, where the abuser’s temper gets triggered by minor incidences such as disagreements. In working with adolescent sexual offenders, it therefore calls for placement programs that remove the abuser from environments that encourage his sexual behaviors. In conclusion, the significance of the Cycle of Abuse in relation to working with adolescent sexual offenders lies in its emphasis on the gradual progression towards violent actions, its cyclic nature as well as its varied forms.
First, it highlights the importance of identifying juvenile sexual offences in their budding stages to avoid their development into ‘high tension’ stages where the offender is vulnerable to acting out their sexual desires. It also avoids further offensive behaviors and helps to ‘bring them back’ into the community. The theory’s reference to the recurrent nature of abuse indicates that juvenile offenders are likely to ‘re-offend,’ hence the need for relapse-prevention measures. The socio-cultural environment within which adolescent sexual offenders operate could also encourage their behaviors.
This observation stems from the theory’s tension and explosion stages, which indicate that an external triggering factor is necessary to push the abuser towards actual confrontation. In this light, it is necessary to evaluate sexual offenses in the context of family environment and the impact it could have had in the formative aspects of the offender’s personal development (Marshall, 1998, 360). Behavior alone should not be the standard of labeling a person, but it should as well include factors that influence character development.
Equally, cultures that promote male sexual aggressiveness as a desirable quality for men should be discouraged. Secondly, sexual offenses are not limited to actual cases of rape or molestation, but could take various forms such as verbal harassment, voyeurism and exposure of one’s private parts. Nonetheless, as in physical and psychological abuse witnessed in relationships, all forms of sexual offenses are significantly harmful to the victim. This is because they have far-reaching effects on the victim, such as fearing the opposite sex even in adulthood, low self-esteem and negative attitude towards relationships.
Lastly, relapse-prevention measures should be designed to achieve long-term goals of permanently changing the offender’s sexual behavior. Since sexual offenses by adolescent could be an overt manifestation of character traits, rehabilitation measures ought to extend beyond short-term therapies designed to treat immediate symptoms. To this end, then, working with adolescent sexual offenders is not only a correction of behavior, but a re-creation of character as well. Reference List Crinson, I. 2009. Health Policy: A Critical. SAGE Publications Ltd, New York. Duncan, K. A.
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