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Book Reviews   |    
Juvenile Sexual Homicide
Reviewed by Gina M. Vincent, Ph.D.
Psychiatric Services 2004; doi: 10.1176/appi.ps.55.3.322-a
View Author and Article Information

by Wade C. Myers, M.D.; San Diego, Academic Press, 2002, 185 pages, $79.95

In Juvenile Sexual Homicide, Wade C. Myers, M.D., tackles a sphere of violent crime that the fields of forensic psychology and psychiatry know very little about. The goal of this book is to provide information conducive to the identification of potential juvenile perpetrators and victims of sex-related murders. Dr. Myers, an associate professor certified in child and adolescent and forensic psychiatry, is highly qualified. Indeed, he is one of few if any researchers to report studies of sexual homicide committed by adolescent perpetrators.

Juvenile Sexual Homicide relays the findings of Dr. Myers' ten-year study of juveniles convicted of committing or attempting murders that involved sexual acts. Sixteen incarcerated males aged 13 to 17 years at the time of their offenses completed psychological testing and rigorous interviews. Several chapters of the book are devoted to aggregated descriptions of the sample in areas spanning demographic characteristics, psychosocial histories, diagnoses, victims' characteristics, and crime-related motivation and decision making. The author educates the reader by including an overview of the available literature on sexual homicide among adults that reviews etiological theories and prognoses. Integrating his study with previous findings among adults, Myers concludes with a typology of juvenile sexual murderers that is based largely on perpetrators' personalities, motivations for crime, and other characteristics of crime.

Given the very low incidence of these crimes among young offenders, Myers should be commended for conducting this study, the largest study of its kind. The book is written in plain language, making it useful to a wide variety of practitioners and other individuals from nonacademic backgrounds. In this vein, the case examples are cleverly illustrated to complement the concepts. The author is adept at contextualizing the characteristics of his target group through comparisons with the literature on adult sexual murderers, adult sex offenders, and serial killers.

In line with his stated purpose of identifying potential offenders and victims, Myers provides rich information about events that precipitate juvenile sexual homicide—for example, substance use—and the likely time and place for them to occur. Finally, the findings may dispel myths that anger and antisocial personalities commonly precipitate these heinous acts, which may discourage practitioners from discounting delinquents with inadequate, avoidant, or schizotypal characteristics.

Despite these advantages, this book's usefulness for the identification of potential adolescent sexual murderers is limited. An obvious problem, as Myers notes, is our ability to generalize from the characteristics of only 16 individuals. The low incidence of such crimes means that this problem is not easily rectifiable. However, the applicability of these findings to the identification of high-risk juveniles could have been extended. The characteristics of these juveniles overlapped substantially with those of serious and violent delinquents in terms of their high incidence of past criminality, adverse family backgrounds, and maladaptive psychosocial adjustment (1). How do we predict which individuals will go on to commit sexual homicide? In this sense, an improvement would involve reviewing the literature to determine characteristics that differentiate sexual murderers from other serious delinquents or including a control group.

On a cautionary note, the author's typology and hypotheses rely heavily on personality disorders, a questionable practice given the complications of diagnosing personality disorders during adolescence, particularly with respect to psychopathy (2,3).

Dr. Vincent is instructor of psychiatry at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester.

Corrado RR, Roesch R, Hart SD, et al (eds): Multi-Problem Violent Youth: A Foundation for Comparative Research on Needs, Interventions, and Outcomes. Amsterdam, IOS Press, 2002
 
Hart SD, Watt K, Vincent GM: Commentary on Seagrave and Grisso: impressions of the state of the art. Law and Human Behavior 26:241—246,  2002
[PubMed]
[CrossRef]
 
Seagrave D, Grisso T: Adolescent development and the measurement of juvenile psychopathy. Law and Human Behavior 26:219—239,  2002
[PubMed]
[CrossRef]
 
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References

Corrado RR, Roesch R, Hart SD, et al (eds): Multi-Problem Violent Youth: A Foundation for Comparative Research on Needs, Interventions, and Outcomes. Amsterdam, IOS Press, 2002
 
Hart SD, Watt K, Vincent GM: Commentary on Seagrave and Grisso: impressions of the state of the art. Law and Human Behavior 26:241—246,  2002
[PubMed]
[CrossRef]
 
Seagrave D, Grisso T: Adolescent development and the measurement of juvenile psychopathy. Law and Human Behavior 26:219—239,  2002
[PubMed]
[CrossRef]
 
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