The Criminalization of Adolescent Sexuality

Publication Date


Document Type

Book Chapter


Laws regulating adolescent sexuality demonstrate attempts to protect youth from sexual exploitation and health risks associated with early onset of sexual activity. Simultaneously, these policies sometimes suppress normative behavior among peers. In the latter part of the 20th century, laws originally created to punish adult sexual abuse of children have been extended to juvenile sexual behavior. In most jurisdictions, juveniles may be prosecuted in adult court, which carries consequences that could last a lifetime. This chapter begins with a discussion of juvenile sex offenders affected by the 2006 Adam Walsh Act. A brief review of statutory rape laws and adolescent sexual behavior is presented thereafter. The following section presents data on the prevalence of youth sexting and discusses the controversies of criminal prosecution. As will be outlined shortly, sex offender laws can and do result in kids becoming registered sex offenders suffering isolation from school and peer groups.

Original Citation

Spooner, K. & Wright, R.G. (2015). The Criminalization of Adolescent Sexuality. In R.G. Wright (Ed.), Sex Offender Laws: Failed Policies, New Directions, 2nd ed. (pp. 256-276). New York: Springer Publishing.

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