Psychological mechanisms underlying support for juvenile sex offender registry laws: prototypes, moral outrage, and perceived threat


  • We thank Maria Vargas, Kristen Roy, and Rachel Doran for their invaluable research assistance, Nicole Pittman and Peter Parry for their consultation regarding legal issues, Nancy Hablutzel, Mary McDermott, and the Illinois State Bar Association for facilitating data collection with the family law attorneys, and Randy Roberts and the Cook County State's Attorney's Office for facilitating data collection with the prosecutors.


In three studies, we investigated support for applying sex offender registry laws to juveniles. Family law attorneys supported registry laws less for juveniles than for adults. Laypeople and prosecutors supported juvenile and adult sex offender registration equally—even though they perceived juveniles as generally less threatening than adults (Study 1)—because most people spontaneously envision a severe sex offender prototype regardless of offender age (Study 2). People are less supportive of registry laws, however, when they envision less severe prototypes spontaneously (Study 2) or when induced to do so (Study 3). Effects of offender age, offender prototypes, and offense severity were mediated by perceptions of threat posed by the juvenile sex offender (i.e., utilitarian concerns). The effect of offense severity was also mediated by moral outrage (i.e., retributive concerns). Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.