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Public attitudes toward sex offenders and their relationship to personality traits and demographic characteristics



The present study examined public attitudes toward the sentencing, treatment, management, and perceived dangerousness of sex offenders. Seventy-eight university undergraduates completed a 25-item attitude toward sex offenders survey developed for the present study, along with a five-factor measure of personality (NEO Personality Inventory – Revised), a demographic questionnaire, and the Paulhus Deception Scale, to control for social desirability. While participants most frequently endorsed the belief that sentences were not sufficiently severe, they tended to espouse treatment and risk management alternatives to longer sentences and eschewed exceptionally severe punishments (e.g., surgical castration). Participants estimated high rates of sexual recidivism (59%), although they also estimated significantly lower recidivism rates for treated offenders. Results of a principle components analysis suggested that participant attitudes comprised two broad domains: systems attitudes (e.g., law enforcement, corrections, justice) and rehabilitative attitudes. Although few demographic differences emerged in participant attitudes, ‘openness to experience’ and ‘agreeableness’ each significantly predicted more rehabilitative attitudes, while contrary to expectations, ‘extraversion’ was significantly associated with more negative systems-related attitudes. The results provide support that personality traits may be linked to important social attitudes, including those toward sex offenders. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.