Prevalence of Early Childhood Abuse and Familial Dysfunction in Juvenile Sex Offenders in Rural and Urban Tennessee

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The prevalence of adversities in early childhood, such as physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, as well as familial dysfunction (e.g., caregiver divorce/separation, caregiver incarceration, etc.) is often examined in community adult samples. According to the Kaiser Permanente’s Adverse Childhood Experiences study, 10.6% of the general population reported experiencing emotional abuse in childhood, 28.3% reported experiencing physical abuse in childhood, and 20.7% reported being the victim of sexual abuse in childhood. Notably, many reported experiencing multiple forms of abuse. These statistics, however, are not generalizable to the experiences of youths involved with the criminal justice system, which are understudied but likely higher than in a general community sample. Research regarding the effect of adversity on sex offending youths is necessary to inform treatment and responses to abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction during childhood. Participants were recruited from archival data gathered at a rural residential juvenile sex offender treatment facility. Our preliminary subsample is approximately 6.7% (n = 30) of the anticipated total of approximately 500 juveniles in the residential sex offender treatment program. Our sample was entirely male (100%), primarily white (96.7%), and had a mean age of 14.77 (SD=1.43) at the time of admission. Using the rural-urban continuum codes outline by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 23% of our current sample was admitted to the facility from metropolitan areas, 20% from non-core urban population areas, and 3.3% from rural areas. The data collection began in November of 2014, and is ongoing. We can expect to have approximately 10 to 15% of data collection (n = 50-75) by April 2015. Our findings, thus far, indicate that 43% of juvenile sex offenders experienced emotional abuse, 70% experienced physical abuse, and 63% experienced sexual abuse in early childhood. We have also found that approximately 87% of our sample experienced caregiver divorce or separation, and 40% experienced caregiver incarceration during childhood. These findings suggest that these juveniles have experienced higher rates of early childhood abuse and familial dysfunction than the general adult population, as reported in the literature. As data collection proceeds, we expect to continue to find a notably higher rate of childhood abuse and familial dysfunction among juvenile sex offenders in residential treatment compared to the general population, and we will continue to examine all potential differences between juveniles from rural and urban areas.


Johnson City, TN

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