The effective treatment of juveniles who sexually offend: An ethical imperative

Elizabeth J. Letourneau, Charles M. Borduin

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


This article raises serious concerns regarding the widespread use of unproven interventions with juveniles who sexually offend and suggests innovative methods for addressing these concerns. Dominant interventions (i.e., cognitive-behavioral group treatments with an emphasis on relapse prevention) typically fail to address the multiple determinants of juvenile sexual offending and could result in iatrogenic outcomes. Methodologically sophisticated research studies (i.e., randomized clinical trials) are needed to examine the clinical and cost-effectiveness of cognitive-behavioral group interventions, especially those delivered in residential settings. The moral and ethical mandate for such research is evident when considering the alternative, in which clinicians and society are willing to live in ignorance regarding the etiology and treatment of juvenile sexual offending and to consign offending youths to the potential harm of untested interventions. Encouraging signs of a changing ethical climate include recent federal funding of a randomized clinical trial examining treatment effectiveness with sexually offending youths and the introduction of separate (i.e., developmentally informed) clinical and legal interventions for juvenile versus adult sexual offenders.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)286-306
Number of pages21
JournalEthics and Behavior
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - Apr 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Ethics
  • Juvenile sexual offenders
  • Randomized clinical trial

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • General Psychology


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