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Assessment of public attitudes towards sex offenders in an Australian population

Michaela Shackley, Carlye Weiner, Andrew Day & Gwenda M. Willis
Psychology, Crime & Law
Published online: 22 May 2013

Abstract
 

Public attitudes towards sex offenders are believed to play a key role in the development of legislation and public policy designed to manage the risks posed by known sex offenders who live in the community. There have, however, been few previous attempts to validate methods by which public attitudes can be measured. The current study aims to address this issue by establishing the factor structure of the Community Attitudes Towards Sex Offenders (CATSO) scale with an Australian community sample and examine the extent to which demographic variables and support for sex offender management policies influence these attitudes. A sample of 552 participants recruited through online social media sites completed the CATSO as well as a number of items developed by the researchers designed to assess individuals’ support for specific sex offender policies. Results of an exploratory factor analysis suggested the presence of four distinct factors which were labelled ‘social tendencies’, ‘treatment and punishment’, ‘crime characteristics’ and ‘sexual behaviour’. Individuals with higher levels of educational attainment rated sex offenders less negatively than those with lower educational attainment, while those who reported being supportive of community notification reported more negative attitudes towards sex offenders.

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