Demographic Differences in Public Attitudes Towards Sex Offenders

Gwenda M. Willis, Sanna Malinen, Lucy Johnston

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Citations (Scopus)


Emotionally fueled public responses to news of released sex offenders have the potential to jeopardize the re-entry process, for example, hindering access to stable housing and employment opportunities. Influencing change in public attitudes towards sex offenders so that they are conducive to successful community re-entry is important in efforts to prevent recidivism. Maximizing the effectiveness of attempts to change public attitudes first requires identifying whether specific demographic groups are more prone to negative attitudes, so that attempts to change attitudes can be appropriately targeted. In the present study, 401 community members completed an online questionnaire designed to assess the affective, cognitive and behavioral dimensions of attitudes towards sex offenders. Differences in attitudes towards sex offenders based on respondent sex, age, educational attainment, occupation, parental status and familiarity with victims and perpetrators of sexual assault were investigated. Females demonstrated more-negative attitudes on affective and behavioral measures compared with males, and respondents with low levels of educational attainment demonstrated more-negative attitudes than respondents with higher levels of educational attainment on cognitive and behavioral measures; however, all groups demonstrated negative attitudes towards sex offenders to some extent. Implications for community-level interventions that promote effective re-entry, and hence reduce the likelihood of sexual reoffending are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)230-247
Number of pages18
JournalPsychiatry, Psychology and Law
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2013
Externally publishedYes


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