Date of Award

2014

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

Charles Collyer

Abstract

This study investigated registered pedophiles’ (N = 121) thoughts on the efficacy, justification, and psychosocial impact of the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) as well as examined these offenders’ views on sexual and non-sexual violence. One thousand male pedophiles identified as medium (Tier II) or severe (Tier III) sex offenders were identified via the Internet through national public online sex offender registration databases. They were randomly selected from nine states around the country. The number of pedophiles chosen from each state was proportionate to the total number of sex offenders registered within those states. A questionnaire was mailed to participants containing three sections: (i) demographic information questions, (ii) scales created to identify pedophiles’ thoughts on the efficacy and justification of SORNA, and the perceived social and psychological effects of the law on their own lives, and (iii) a scale based on the one used by Collyer et al. (2007) and Collyer et al. (2011) measuring sensitivity to sexual and non-sexual violence as well as participants’ own definitions of sexual and nonsexual violence. Approximately half of the sample identified as Tier II (medium risk) offenders (n = 63) and the remainder have been classified as Tier III (high risk) offenders (n = 58). Confirmatory factor analysis, chi-square tests of independence, t-tests, and sign tests were used to analyze the data. Results indicated that over half of participants believed that sex offender registries should be legal, and that the creation of sex offender registries is justified. Approximately 80% of participants rated “SORNA as a whole” as ineffective or very ineffective, with Tier III offenders finding the law significantly less effective than Tier II offenders. Eighty-five percent of participants responded that the types of identifying information included on Internet sex offender registries is unjustified or very unjustified, with Tier III offenders finding the inclusion of identifying information to be significantly more unjustified than Tier II offenders. Results for both groups indicate that they find the inclusion of qualifying offenses under SORNA to be somewhat justified. However, approximately 90% of the sample identified SORNA as negatively or very negatively impacting their psychosocial functioning. Tier level predicted sensitivity to violence, with Tier III offenders exhibiting lower violence sensitivity scores than Tier II offenders. More Tier III offenders identified definitions of violence based solely on physical contact than Tier II offenders. Analyses also confirmed that Tier III pedophiles have lower sensitivity to sexual and non-sexual violence than do Tier II pedophiles. The results of this study have ramifications for future legislation and ways sex offenders are dealt with through the criminal justice system. The negative impact of laws such as SORNA needs to be lessened in order for pedophiles to view them as justified. Research has shown that offenders who feel their punishments are fair are less likely to recidivate in the future (Tewksbury & Lees, 2007). Therefore, in order for future legislation to prove effective, it must convince sex offenders themselves that the laws are effective and justified.

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