Preventing Youth Sex Offending Behaviors

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Expert's Take

Editor's Note

In Together for Girls’ #SVsolutions Spotlight series, we highlight effective interventions and programs that are truly leading the way to preventing sexual violence against children in every corner of our world. And while it’s crucial to know what works to prevent sexual violence against childrent, it’s also equally important to know and better understand what doesn’t work and what changes must be made in order to best support, protect, and uplift children. 


That’s why we’re honored to feature the below piece about Dr. LeTourneau and her unprecedented work with the Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland. A true pioneer in the prevention of child sexual abuse and perpetration, Dr. LeTourneau conducts research exploring the negative effects of sex offender public policy and Juvenile Sex Offender Registry and Notification (SORN).


In “What Works to Prevent Sexual Violence Against Children”, Juvenile SORN are categorized as harmful interventions, and this marks the first Spotlight that explores an intervention without promising or prudent effects.

The Negative Consequences of Juvenile SORN

Sex offender registration and public notification policies were intended to assist in the prevention and early detection of child sexual abuse, either by reducing the likelihood of sexual offense recidivism or preventing first-time sex crimes. 

Four studies examined the impact of federal and several state juvenile registration policies on sexual and violent recidivism and failed to find any effect on sexual or violent recidivism rates. 

Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Professor Elizabeth Letourneau has devoted her life’s work to changing how people view child sexual abuse. In her 2016 TEDMED Talk, Elizabeth sheds light on how initiatives targeting juvenile sex offenders can be the best method to help prevent future offenses.

Three studies evaluated the effects of registration on the prevention of first-time sex crimes and failed to find any primary prevention effect. The collateral consequences associated with these policies are overwhelmingly negative. Treatment providers overwhelmingly perceive negative consequences associated with juvenile registration and notification. Worse, juvenile registration is associated with increased risk of attempting suicide, being approached by adults for sex, and experiencing sexual assault victimization.

Children who engage in problematic sexual behavior — including serious behavior that has harmed others — typically desist from such behaviors upon detection and present a low likelihood of recidivism. Without question, it is important to recognize the harm caused to victims by such behaviors and to ensure that such behaviors are not repeated. There are several well-validated, evidenced-based interventions for youth with problematic sexual behavior. Juvenile SORN are not among these effective interventions.

“We say we’re really concerned about sex offending and we really don’t want children to be sexually offended and we don’t want adults to be raped, but we don’t do anything to prevent it. We put most of our energy into criminal justice, which means that the offense has already happened and often many offenses have already happened.”

- Preventing Youth Sex Offending Behaviors

Dr. LeTourneau

Featured in the award-winning, ground-breaking 2014 piece by Luke Malone: “You're 16. You're a Pedophile. You Don't Want to Hurt Anyone. What Do You Do Now?”

Learn More:

This spotlight was pulled from “What Works to Prevent Sexual Violence Against Children,” a systematic review of proven solutions and best practices to prevent and respond to sexual violence against children and youth (SVAC). The review was completed in collaboration with a group of experts and allied organizations and highlights evidence-based solutions from around the world. Read the whole set of #SVSolutions Program Spotlights here.

Dr. Elizabeth Letourneau

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  • Author: Dr. Elizabeth Letourneau, Director, Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, Maryland
  • Intervention: Notification and sex offender laws for juveniles who sexually offend
  • Strategy: Implementation & Enforcement Of Laws 
  • Ranking: This intervention is categorized as HARMFUL
  • Location: USA
  • Age: All
  • Gender: All

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