Download our news and weather apps

Experts say kids who sexually assault others and want to recover are able

Photo: AP

The children who sexually assault other children may be the popular jocks, the loners or anyone in between.

There is no typical attacker, no way for schools to predict who might inflict that kind of torment on a classmate.

Thousands of school-age offenders are treated annually for sexual aggression in the United States, yet experts see no standard profile of personality, background or motivation.

They say that while anti-social behavior can suggest a greater risk of offending, the cool kid may attack and the rebel may reform.

The reasons are rarely as straightforward as physical gratification and range from a sense of entitlement to desperation to fit in.

Though many sexual assaults aren’t reported to authorities, research shows that about 95 percent of juvenile offenders who enter the justice system won’t be arrested for another sex crime.

Experts say the ordeal of facing police and parents — along with public condemnation for such taboo acts — scares many straight.

An ongoing Associated Press investigation has documented how K-12 schools in the United States can fail to protect students in their care from sexual assault, sometimes minimizing or even covering up incidents.

Schools also struggle to help sexually aggressive students, both before and after they do lasting harm.

The juvenile justice system stresses second chances, and even unrepentant offenders don’t forfeit their right to an education. Back in class, privacy laws can mean teachers and peers do not know their pasts.

The toughest patients need support from all sides, not just treatment professionals, according to one of the nation’s pre-eminent juvenile sexual offender experts.

“The safest sex offender is somebody who is stable, occupied, accountable to others and has a plan for the future,” said therapist David Prescott, who has treated or assessed hundreds of sexually aggressive kids and now works in Maine for an alliance of nonprofit organizations.

With support and maturation, experts say, young abusers typically recover.

“It’s not a lifelong trajectory,” said Maia Christopher, executive director of the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers. “Children tend to be much more influenced by effective kinds of interventions than adults.”

But, as three cases identified by the AP show, they have to want to make it work.