Harris, A. J., & Socia, K. (2015) What’s in a Name? Evaluating the Effects of the “Sex Offender” Label on Public Opinions and Beliefs. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment. ifirst http://sax.sagepub.com/content/early/2014/12/24/1079063214564391.abstract
Particularly over the past two decades, the terms sex offender and juvenile sex offender (JSO) have attained increasingly common usage in media and public policy discourse. Although often applied as factual descriptors, the labels may evoke strong subconscious associations with a population commonly presumed to be compulsive, at high risk of re-offense, and resistant to rehabilitation. Such associations, in turn, may exert considerable impact on expressions of support for certain policies as well as public beliefs and opinions about adults and youth who have perpetrated sexual offenses. The current study systematically evaluated the impact of the “sex offender” and “JSO” labels through series of items administered to a nationally stratified and matched sample from across the United States. The study employed an experimental design, in which one group of participants (n = 498) ranked their levels of agreement with a series of statements utilizing these labels, and a control group (n = 502) responded to a matched set of statements substituting the labels with more neutral descriptive language. Findings support the hypothesis that use of the “sex offender” label strengthens public support for policies directed at those who have perpetrated sexual crimes, including public Internet disclosure, residency restrictions, and social networking bans. The “JSO” label is demonstrated to produce particularly robust effects, enhancing support for policies that subject youth to public Internet notification and affecting beliefs about youths’ propensity to re-offend as adults. Implications for public policy, media communication, and research are explored and discussed.
Could you talk us through where the idea for the research came from?
What kinds of challenges did you face throughout the process?
What kinds of things did you learn about co-authorship as a result of producing this article?
What do you believe to be the main things that you have learnt about the labeling of sex offenders, and what are some implications for practitioners?