The Role of Dehumanization in Understanding Responses to Sex Offenders in the Community
The successful rehabilitation of sex offenders entails reintegration into the community and desistance from further offending. Although research shows that many treated sex offenders are capable of sustained behaviour change (Hanson, Bourgon, Helmus, & Hodson, 2009), most communities resist the return of these offenders. These reactions are often expressed through the implementation of punitive legislation such as offender registries and community notification schemes (Petrunik, Murphy, & Federoff, 2008), as well as direct community backlash (Brown, Deakin, & Spencer, 2008). Unfortunately, such responses tend to exacerbate the conditions which make recidivism more likely, including unemployment, unstable housing, lack of access to treatment, and social isolation (Willis, Levenson, & Ward, 2010). Addressing these negative responses requires a better understanding of how they are formed and maintained. This study examined participants' responses to offenders in the community through the framework of dehumanization (Haslam, 2006). Participants were randomly assigned to read one of six vignettes describing a hypothetical offender who would shortly be returning to the community. It was predicted that participants who dehumanized offenders more would be less supportive of the offender's rights in the community (hypothesis 1) and less willing to have personal contact with the offender (hypothesis 2). It was also predicted that participants would respond more negatively to high risk than low risk offenders (hypothesis 3), and more negatively to sexual offenders than violent or property offenders (hypothesis 4). Hypotheses 1, 2, and 4 were fully supported. Hypothesis 3 was partly supported as the offender's risk level did not significantly affect participants' willingness for personal contact. Exploratory regression and structural equation modelling analyses found that dehumanization played a particular role in mediating the effect of sex offending on the perceived dangerousness of the offender, which in turn strongly predicted negative reactions to the offender in the community. Dehumanization did not play a similar role in mediating the effect of risk level. Support for the applicability of the dehumanization framework to responses to sex offenders presents a number of possible avenues for future research, including the effects of racism and offender ethnicity (Goff, Eberhardt, Williams, & Jackson, 2008), moral disengagement processes (Bandura, 1999), and the development of a more comprehensive theoretical model which incorporates dehumanization as well as other latent factors which are yet to be identified.
DegreeMaster of Arts (M.A.)
SupervisorWormith, J. Stephen
CommitteeLawson, Karen; Olver, Mark
Copyright DateNovember 2012
structural equation modelling