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Understanding the nature and scope of adolescent sexual offending across Canada

TitleUnderstanding the nature and scope of adolescent sexual offending across Canada
Year of Publication2019
AuthorsVarma, K. N., and Leroux E. J.
JournalThe Annual Review of Interdisciplinary Justice Research
Pages120 - 145
Keywordsadolescent sexual offending, police decision-making, ucr survey

This study examined data from the Uniform Crime Reporting Incident-based Survey capturing a national sample (N = 6,145) of all adolescents coming to the attention of the police in response to a sexual offence between 2009 and 2011. This data is not publicly available or reported elsewhere, and therefore provides a unique national perspective on adolescents accused of sexual offences in Canada. There are many challenges when it comes to providing access to justice for individuals who are involved in cases of sexual assault. Sexual assault cases are recognized as particularly challenging because they are vastly under-reported to police, and even when cases are reported and a charge is laid, there is a high attrition rate in these cases continuing through to court. When it comes to adolescents accused of sexual offences, it becomes further complicated. This is because adolescent sexual offending is distinct from adult-perpetrated sexual offending, and it is also distinct from other forms of adolescent offending due to the layered complexities of adolescent sexuality, the vulnerability of both the accused and the victim, and the intra-familial dynamics that are often present in these cases. As the initial gatekeepers to the justice process, police officers' use of discretion is extremely important and can be informed by an understanding of the nature and scope of this offence and the complexity of the dynamics involved. We used the Uniform Crime Reporting Incident-based Survey data to examine patterns about the type of sexual offence involved, the gender of the accused, the age of the accused, and the relationship of the accused to the victim. Findings are discussed in the context of a greater understanding of the complexities of adolescent sexual offence cases and the challenges for police decision-making. In order for accused adolescents and victims to receive appropriate access to justice, be that through formal dispositions or informal extrajudicial measures, police officers and frontline workers must be sensitive to the difficulties related to this offence in terms of the often intimate relationship between the accused and the victim, and the interpersonal dynamics that are involved.

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