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Might informative media reporting of sexual offending influence community members' attitudes towards sex offenders?

Sanna Malinen, Gwenda M. Willis & Lucy Johnston
Psychology, Crime & Law
Published online: 22 May 2013

Abstract

The media represents one of the main sources of public information about sexual offending. However, the media sensationalises sexual crimes through its focus on exceptional cases, contributing to an inaccurate representation of the population of individuals convicted of sexual offences. The resulting negative community attitudes towards released sex offenders may create barriers to community re-entry and promote ill-informed legislation. The aim of the current study was to explore whether informative reporting of sexual offending might result in less negative public attitudes towards released sex offenders. Eighty-seven participants were presented either with an informative media portrayal of a recently released sex offender, a fear-inducing, typical portrayal or no media portrayal (control condition). We measured three components of participants' attitudes (affect, cognitive beliefs and behavioural intensions) towards sex offenders, in addition to participants' non-conscious, implicit, attitudes. The results showed that the informative media portrayal significantly influenced the cognitive and behavioural components of attitudes; however, the affective component and implicit attitudes remained consistently negative. Our findings suggest that the media may play an influential role in influencing public opinion about sex offenders. The potential, and the challenges, for using media to influence public attitudes towards sex offenders are discussed.

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