IPT Book Reviews

Title: Juvenile Sexual Offending
Editors: Gail Ryan and Sandy Lane
Publisher: Jossey-Bass Inc., 1997

Jossey-Bass Inc., Publishers
350 Sansome Street
San Francisco, CA 94104
(415) 433-1740
$39.95 (p)

In 491 pages, the editors, who also write 18 of the 22 chapters, offer a summary of the conventional wisdom about juvenile sexual offenders. The initial discussion of what constitutes sexually abusive behavior is so inclusive and so broad that almost any interaction between two human beings can be labeled as sexually abusive. It may be that a need to be politically correct has overridden other considerations. The definition of sexual abuse is not limited to behaviors, but includes intentions, relationships, dynamics, and impact. A child playing school may be sexually abusive if there is any implication of authority while playing the role of teacher. Coercion may determine that an interaction is sexually abusive if there is anything other than complete perfect equality — intellectually, emotionally, and socially.

The strengths of the clinical experience of those who treat juvenile offenders are included, but also the weaknesses. The book is based almost entirely on claims of clinical experience and has few citations or material derived from empirical quantified research. Contributors other than the editors, with one exception, also rely on their experience as administrators of programs or leaders of support groups. While there may be some insights gained from clinical experience, it is also necessary to be aware of the lack of knowledge and understanding of the potentially relevant research base. There are a number of myths and mistaken notions that are included without any indication of their questionable status. An example is the assertion, "The most reliable source for true incidence figures on child sexual abuse appear to be in the self-reports of past and present victims and offenders" (p. 12). Scientists have understood for many years that retrospective accounts are neither highly reliable nor likely to be highly valid.

The exception to lack of data is chapter four by Floyd Martinson which reviews sexual development in infancy and childhood. This is well-written, covers the research data adequately, and is a good, concise summary of the quantified knowledge about sexual development in children.

The treatment chapters describe and encourage a treatment model that also summarizes the conventional wisdom on treatment of juveniles. However, there is no information on research, no discussion of outcomes, and no consideration of any psychotherapy research that may suggest alternatives. For those uninformed about juvenile offenders who may benefit from the conventional wisdom of clinical experience, the book offers a fairly well-organized overview. The danger is that those who have little knowledge of the area may be unable to sort out what is not well supported. For those who are familiar with the relevant scientific knowledge, this book has little to add.

Reviewed by Ralph Underwager, Institute for Psychological Therapies, Northfield, Minnesota.

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