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Assessment and treatment of adolescent sexual offenders: Implications of recent research on generalist versus specialist explanations

Lesleigh Pullman & Michael C. Setob

Child Abuse & Neglect; 36 (2012) 203 - 209




Adolescent sex offenders (ASOs) are commonly considered a special kind of juvenile offender, with distinct risk and etiological factors from other adolescent offenders. However, a growing body of research suggests that ASOs are more similar to other adolescent non-sex offenders than they are different (e.g., Awad, Saunders, & Levine, 1984; Elliott, 1994; France & Hudson, 1993). The purpose of the present article is to review recent literature pertaining to the distinction between generalist and specialist adolescent sex offenders (ASOs).


This article summarizes the findings from Seto and Lalumière's (2010) metaanalysis on theoretically derived risk and etiological factors for adolescent sexual offending. Based on these findings, recommendations for the assessment and treatment of this population are made.


The results of Seto and Lalumière's (2010) meta-analysis suggests the majority of ASOs are generalist offenders who are similar to other adolescent non-sex offenders, while a minority of ASOs are specialist offenders, who have unique risk and etiological factors including childhood sexual abuse/maltreatment and atypical sexual interests.


A clear distinction has been shown between generalist ASOs and specialist ASOs. Assessment measures and treatment targets geared toward one of these groups may be less effective with the other group, which means that this distinction is clinically important. It is expected that if treatment is matched to ASO type, sexual and nonsexual recidivism will be reduced and positive changes in other clinically important areas will be evident.


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