Juvenile sex offenders getting younger, study finds

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 27 September, 2013, 5:00am

Sex offences by juveniles have been committed by increasingly youthful individuals in the past four years, with three offences perpetrated by 11-year-olds in the 12 months to March - the first period in which offenders have been so young, a study shows.

Half of the 30 teenage sex offences reported to police in the northeastern New Territories this year involved youths aged 11 to 14, the highest number in four years and three times the five cases that occurred in 2009, according to the research, carried out by the Evangelical Lutheran Church Social Service of Hong Kong (ELCHK).

Researchers, who examined data for the period April 2009 to March this year, said young people's use of social media could be the most important factor driving the trend. Their constant interactions on Facebook, WhatsApp and Weibo have made their relationships closer in a shorter period of time - possibly prompting them to act more intimately when meeting in person, said researchers.

The study covered all cases in Sha Tin, Tai Po, North District and Yuen Long under the Police Superintendent's Discretion Scheme, in which police superintendents issue cautions to offenders under 18 if they admit the offences and put them under supervision for two years or until they reach 18.

Offences listed under the scheme are deemed less serious, and include indecent assault, having sexual intercourse with girls under 16, stealing underwear, indecent exposure and upskirt photo-taking.

Almost 90 per cent of the 118 cases in the research period fell into the first two categories.

Two of the 11-year-old offenders had committed indecent assault and one had had unlawful sexual intercourse, according to the study. All of them were boys.

Most offenders may not even have known their acts were unlawful, as more than nine in 10 were partners, classmates or friends of their victims and around 65 per cent had gained consent for the acts.

ELCHK social worker Joe Ching Kin-cho said young people had not been receiving sufficient sex education and information on sex regulations, and that growing use of smartphones had given them access to many apps with sexually explicit content.

"Teenagers are at an important phase of life and they don't know how to judge what level of intimacy is too intimate," said Ching. "They're curious about sex and such information is flooding society. If teenage sex offenders are left unguided, they could become repeat offenders."