UNH Today asked sociologist David Finkelhor to weigh in on the sex scandal that emerged in the Duggar family, the subjects of the TLC show “19 Kids and Counting.” Here is Finkelhor’s response to the question:
In your opinion how should we be handling juvenile sex offenders?
DF: The juvenile justice system is intended as a rehabilitative process. When it works well, it is sensitive to the developmental needs of the offender as well as the victim. The research suggests that most adolescent offenders have a pretty good prognosis to not re-offend; an incident as a juvenile is not a sign that they are headed for a lifetime of sexual deviance. The recidivism rate among juveniles is relatively low — around 5 percent. The problem is that we live in a time of enormous alarm and anxiety about sex offenses, and there’s been a big political effort to make sure that people don’t get away with it. Recently, a lot of statutory changes have occurred to have made the criminal response to juvenile offenders much more punitive and draconian, such as the Adam Walsh Act of 2006, which required states to put juvenile sex offenders on sex offender registries — quite a few states have refused to comply. There could be a scenario where a teenager sends a naked picture of him or herself and ends up on a sexual offender registry. So anyone working with adolescent perpetrators, including therapists and family members, have some credible trepidation about involving the justice system. But at the same time, clinicians and advocates feel it is important for these offenders to get some kind of treatment, and that there is some kind of restitution.