Vol. XXVIII, No. 3
Summer 2016
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Regular Features
Editor's Note
President's Message
Are Juvenile Sexual Risk Assessment Instruments Adequate on Their Own to Assess Risk?
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Preventing Clinician Burnout
A Theoretical Framework for Proscribing Pornography Viewing for Those With Sex Offense Convictions
Online Debate 5: Developing a worldly understanding of sexual offenders and their management
Students' Voice
Sexual Deviance and General Criminality Factors Among Adolescent Sex Offenders
3rd Annual ATSA Student Clinical Case and Data Blitz
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The Trauma Myth
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35th ATSA Conference
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ATSA Chapters: Amplifying ATSAís Footprint in the World
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Contact the editor or submit articles to:

Heather M. Moulden, Ph.D.
Forensic Program
St. Joseph's Healthcare
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
E: hmoulden@stjoes.ca
P: (905) 522-1155 ext. 35539
Are Juvenile Sexual Risk Assessment Instruments Adequate on Their Own to Assess Risk?
By Phil Rich

The question really synthesizes three essential questions:  (1) how accurately or meaningfully do these instruments estimate, or predict, sexual recidivism in sexually abusive youth, (2) beside the question of recidivism, what can these tools tell us about the young person being assessed, and (3) how and when can we best use these instruments, and for that purpose? Additionally, and as a starting point, we must also ask how well future behavior can be assessed in any person, but especially in young people who are in the very process of developmental and social change.

It’s a large question, but we can say several key things. First, in terms of being able to accurately estimate future risk, our most commonly used instruments are, at best, only partially validated. More critically, a review of the research shows inconsistent, varied, and contradictory results, and we could easily support the conjecture that, in fact, none of the instruments are empirically validated (Rich, 2014). Thus far, our instruments have not demonstrated the capacity for scientific precision or reliability (Caldwell, 2013, Fanniff & Letourneau, 2012).

Nevertheless, what the instruments can do well is identify risk factors that were present in the life of the young person at the time of the sexually abusive behavior, and those that were present then and remain active today, or the dynamic risk factors, which themselves serve as targets for treatment. In turn, this allows us to recognize the significant value of juvenile risk instruments as tools that help us to understand risk for each client, and thus build individualized treatment and case management plans (for instance, Prentky et al., 2010). Here the goal is not simply the “prediction” of future behavior but also to manage and reduce risk (Viljoen, Mordell, & Beneteau, 2012). In other words, our goal is to prevent, rather than simply “predict,” recidivism. The task is to understand the risks for each individual in “real” time so we can best manage and treat those risks, and in which assessment sets the foundation for carefully targeted treatment.

However, no matter what the strengths of the instruments, and especially in treatment planning (thus matching the principles of RNR), given their simultaneous limitations, the answer is that risk assessment instruments should be used as one part of a more comprehensive assessment of young people, nested within a larger process that gathers information about and assesses young people in multiple aspects of their lives, and across multiple domains (Caldwell & Dickinson, 2009; Colorado Department of Public Safety, 2002; Rich, 2009). Add to that the changeable and changing nature of adolescence, and the need to always pay attention to the developmental backgrounds and social contexts of adolescent behavior. For this reason, not only must risk instruments be used only as part of a more comprehensive assessment, but they should be marked over time by regular re-assessment, recognizing that the further into the future a juvenile risk assessment projects, the less likely it is to be accurate (for instance, Worling, Bookalam, & Litteljohn, 2011).


Caldwell, M. F. (2013).  Accuracy of sexually violent person assessments of juveniles adjudicated for sexual offenses. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, 25, 516-526.

Caldwell, M. F., & Dickinson, C. (2009). Sex offender registration and recidivism risk in juvenile sexual offenders. Behavioral Sciences & the Law, 27, 941-956.

Colorado Department of Public Safety. (2002). Colorado Sex Offender Management Board Standards and Guidelines for the Evaluation, Assessment, Treatment and Supervision of Juveniles Who Have Committed Sexual Offenses. Denver, CO: Author.

Fanniff, A. M., & Letourneau, E. J. (2012). Another piece of the puzzle: Psychometric properties of the J-SOAP-II. Journal of Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, 24, 378-408.

Prentky, R. A., Li, N., Righthand, S., Schuler, A., Cavanaugh, D., & Lee, A. F. (2010). Assessing risk of sexually abusive behavior among youth in a child welfare sample. Behavioral Sciences and the Law, 28, 24-45.

Rich. P. (2009). Juvenile sexual offenders: A comprehensive guide to risk evaluation. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Rich, P. (2014). Chapter 4: Assessment of risk for sexual re-offense in juveniles who commit sexual offenses. In Sex Offender Management Assessment and Planning Initiative. Washington, DC: National Criminal Justice Association, Office of Justice Programs (SMART), U.S. Department of Justice. http://www.smart.gov/SOMAPI/sec2/ch4_risk.html

Viljoen, J. L., Mordell, S., & Beneteau, J. L. (2012). Prediction of adolescent sexual reoffending: A meta-analysis of the J-SOAP-II, ERASOR, J-SORRAT-II, and Static-99. Law and Human Behavior, 36, 423-438.

Worling, J. R., Bookalam, D., & Litteljohn, A. (2012). Prospective validity of the Estimate of Risk of Adolescent Sexual Offense Recidivism (ERASOR). Journal of Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, 24(3), 203-223.


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