You Learn What You Live: Prevalence of Childhood Adversity in the Lives of Juveniles Arrested for Sexual Offenses


  • Jill S. Levenson Barry University
  • Michael Baglivio
  • Kevin T. Wolff
  • Nathan Epps
  • William "Chip" Royall
  • Katherine C. Gomez
  • Dahlia Kaplan



Juvenile, sexual offense, ACE, adverse childhood experience, early adversity, trauma-informed care


ocial workers often find themselves working with children or adolescents who have been victims of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), including youths who have ended up in the juvenile justice system. Childhood trauma has been linked to negative health, mental health, and behavioral outcomes across the lifespan. The aim of this study was to examine the prevalence rates of child maltreatment and household dysfunction in the lives of juveniles who have been arrested for sexual offenses (JSO; n = 6,549). ACE prevalence rates for JSOs were compared by gender to juveniles arrested for other crimes, to adults arrested for sexual offenses, and to the general population. Youths in the delinquency system in Florida had much higher rates of high-ACE scores than the general population, indicating that they came from households where the accumulation and variety of early adversity is a salient feature in their lives. For those who have engaged in sexually abusive behavior, the existence of early maltreatment and family problems was prominent. Through a better understanding of the traumatic experiences of these youths, we can inform and enhance interventions designed to improve the functioning of sexually abusive juvenile clients and their families, and reduce risk of future recidivism.

Author Biography

Jill S. Levenson, Barry University

Dr. Jill Levenson is an Associate Professor of Social Work at Barry University in Miami, FL. She is also a licensed clinical social worker with nearly 30 years of experience working with victims, survivors, and offenders of interpersonal violence, child maltreatment and sexual abuse.

Dr. Levenson researches the impact and effectiveness of social policies and therapeutic interventions designed to reduce sexual violence. She has been a co-investigator or consultant on five grants funded by the U.S. Department of Justice. Most recently, her research endeavors have focused on the prevalence and impact of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and their relationship to adult health, mental health, and criminal outcomes. 


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