Grant will let U study child sexual abuse

by Mehgan Lee

Researchers in the University’s Academic Health Center received a grant to study whether there are any unique factors or characteristics that lead adolescent sexual offenders to commit child sexual abuse and sexual assault.

According to an article in The Prevention Researcher, a newsletter for professionals working with youth, half of all adult sexual offenders begin sexually abusive behavior in their adolescence.

However, there is not much academic research on risk factors that lead youth to commit sexual crimes, said Michael Miner, one of the study’s researchers and a professor in the Department of Family Practice and Community Health.

“At this point, all we have are theories,” he said.

But if researchers can identify risk factors that lead youth to commit sexual abuse against children and sexual assault, then more effective prevention programs can be developed, Miner said.

“Our ultimate goal is to eliminate this kind of behavior and protect women and children from exploitation,” he said.

Miner said men can also be the victims of sexual assault, but it occurs less frequently than it does with women and children.

“Protecting adult men is less of an issue,” he said.

Adolescent sexual offender treatment programs’ policymakers will use the research, Miner said. Currently, the State Legislature is looking at revising the criminal code for sexual offenders.

“This kind of research will inform that process,” Miner said.

The study will involve approximately 200 adolescent sexual offenders. Researchers will recruit the volunteers from probation departments, juvenile detention facilities and sexual offender treatment programs.

Miner said the volunteers will be paid $25 each to answer questionnaires and participate in two-hour interviews. Researchers will examine the adolescents’ criminal records, as well as their attitudes about women and sexuality, concepts of masculinity and femininity, perceptions of social isolation, relationships with peers and consensual sexual experiences, he said.

Similar research will be conducted with 100 adolescent criminals to discover if the groups share any common characteristics and risk factors, he said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provided the $755,378 grant. The study will be conducted over the next three years.

Miner said the University is on the cutting edge of research in a variety of fields.

“This is another area where we’re leading the way in important contemporary problems,” he said.