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Working Towards Desistance: Canadian Public's Attitudes Towards Sex Offenders, Sex Offender Treatment, and Policy



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Understanding public attitudes towards sex offenders and public endorsement of sex offender policy is essential to the development of successful and workable policies that reduce sexual recidivism. The current research examined Canadian attitudes towards sex offenders, support for sex offender policies, and the relationship between attitudes, demographic variables, and policy endorsement. This research was completed via two studies: study 1 was a pilot project completed with undergraduate students (n = 333) and study 2 included a representative sample of English speaking Canadians (n = 1008). Attitudes were measured comprehensively by four scales: a feeling thermometer, the Attitudes Towards Treatment of Sex Offenders Scale, the Attitudes towards Sex Offenders and Criminal Justice scale, and a Social Distance Scale. Policies were measured using a newly developed Sex Offender Policy scale and were divided into Incapacitation/Control (IC) and Rehabilitation/Reintegration (RR) policies. Study 2 examined Canadian attitudes towards contact adult, contact child, and non-contact adult sex offenders. Comparisons among the three groups were completed in order to identify if attitudes and policy endorsement varied as a result of sex offender type. Results indicated that a majority of the participants had negative feelings towards sex offenders, especially contact child offenders. Overall, Canadians had neutral beliefs regarding sex offenders and sex offender treatment. Canadians endorsed a majority of both rehabilitative and punitive policies, although endorsed significantly less IC policies for the non-contact adult offenders, compared with the other two types. Participants were in favor of RR policies, for example: providing therapy, stable housing and job assistance and Circles Of Support and Accountability, and also endorsed support for IC policies, for example: residence restrictions and public registration. Attitudes were also associated with policy endorsement. That is, more punitive attitudes were related to endorsement of more IC policies, and the endorsement of fewer RR policies; this relationship was also found in the reverse. A combination of measures of attitude as well as demographic variables was found to account for significant variance in both RR and IC policy endorsement. This research suggests that Canadian attitudes are complex and Canadians endorse a variety of sex offender policies. These findings have implications for future policies and reintegration strategies and may encourage collaboration between researchers, policy makers, and the public.



sex offenders, public attitudes, policy



Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)






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