Library Dissertation Showcase

Public Attitudes Towards the Capacity of Sexual Offenders to Change: The Influence of Case Specific Information

  • Year of Publication:
  • 2019

Members of the public are often sceptical of the notion that sexual offenders can change and benefit from rehabilitation. These pessimistic attitudes combined with stringent government legislation have made it increasingly difficult for sex offenders to successfully re-enter society upon release from prison. This study aimed to investigate whether the type of sexual offence an individual perpetrates has an impact on public attitudes towards the capacity of sexual offenders to change, and to determine whether increasing the public’s awareness of a sexual offender’s background leads to positive attitudinal changes. This study also explored the reasons which underpinned these attitudes. Ninety-one members of the public received a hypothetical case report concerning a sexual offender who had victimised either an adult or child. These case reports varied in the amount of offender background information provided. Participants’ attitudes towards the capacity of sexual offenders to change were then measured and probed using the ‘Capacity to Change’ factor of the ‘CATSO’ scale and additional open-ended questions. A two-way between-subjects ANOVA revealed a significant main effect of ‘type of sexual offender’ on these attitudes, with participants reporting more punitive attitudes towards the capacity of sexual offenders who victimise children to change. No significant main effect of ‘amount of background information’ or interaction effect was found. A thematic analysis revealed three themes from the qualitative data: The conceptualisation of sexual offenders, the continuum of change, and the march of progress towards the use of rehabilitation. Consequently, the findings of this study indicate that public attitudes towards the capacity of sexual offenders to change are influenced by numerous variables, and that raising the public’s awareness of a sexual offender’s background may not be the most effective means of promoting positive attitudinal changes towards the capacity of these individuals to change.

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