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The Perversion of YouthReview - The Perversion of Youth
Controversies in the Assessment and Treatment of Juvenile Sex Offenders
by Frank DiCataldo
NYU Press, 2009
Review by Richard Skaff
Aug 10th 2010 (Volume 14, Issue 32)

In this age of globalization and privatization, ambiguity became clarity, mendacity became truth, and violence became valor. As a result, an old political fad has regained momentum and turned into a common practice in the Private-Public-Partnership industry. This practice consists of the continuous creation and manufacture of monsters as well as heroes who will slay these monsters. Ogres and bogey men have become the foundations of new industries, as well as idols to be emulated due to the incessant corporate media coverage that seeks ratings rather than information, conflict rather than harmony, partial truth rather than objective reporting, fear mongering programs rather than thought provoking ones, and profits rather than ethics. As a result, everyone and everything is for sale.

Dicatalado's book is timely. It provides the reader with a comprehensive review of the psychological and legal environments that define and confine youth who have committed sexual offenses, and who have been portrayed by the media as monsters.  

The author correlates the sharp increase in the placement of juvenile sex offenders in private treatment settings to the lucrative expansion of a cottage industry for treating juvenile sex offenders that occurred during a time period when the arrest rate of juveniles for sexual offenses was decreasing for rape and flat for all other sexual offenses.  In addition, Dicatalado critiques the current system and its methods for treating and categorizing juveniles, especially in a speculative psychiatric field designed to classify everyone and every behavior as pathological. He also attempts to demonstrate through an empirical review of the literature that current practices are based more on fear mongering and pseudo-morality rather than on any scientific evidence or sound policy.

The author calls for a major overhaul and reassessment of the current system that includes a deviancy-focused-relapse prevention cookie-cutter treatment approach, and addresses the dismal failure of our subjective instruments that attempt to predict reoffending practices.

Dicatalodo also scrutinizes the history of sexual offending and the perception of the past where the so-called sex offenses for which young children are currently being locked up and subjected to treatment would have been regarded as sex play, experimentation, or more seriously as evidence of general delinquency.  Subsequently, He presents the empirical evidence suggesting that "the juvenile sex offender" is not a category distinct from other delinquents, and attributes it instead to an array of developmental factors, including sexual experimentation, thrill-seeking, poor social skills, emotional neediness, and rigid gender scripts that encourage sexual conquest as proof of masculinity. He also summarizes all of the important scientific research and legal cases pertaining to juvenile sex offending. 

The book is divided into eight chapters beginning with the birth of the moral panic to chapter two that explores the heterogeneity of juvenile sex offenders to chapter three that delves into the assessment of instruments for these offenders. Treatment approaches are discussed in chapter four, while chapter five tackles the concepts of normal childhood sexuality and the invention of childhood sexual behavior problems. Chapter six examines the waiver of the juvenile sex offender to adult court, and chapter seven attacks the making of monsters and the civil commitment of juvenile sex offenders. The book ends with chapter eight that discusses the invisible punishment of the juvenile sex offender.

Dicatalodo's volume is enlightening and thought provoking. It is also written with a graceful and eloquent style. The book will make a terrific resource for anyone interested in understanding the current phenomenon of juvenile sex offending, ranging from clinicians, researchers, attorneys, to judges, and policymakers.

 

 

© 2010 Richard Skaff,

 

 

Richard Skaff, Rancho Palos Verdes, California


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