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Stigma and Sexual Offenders: The Effect of Mental Illness on Attitudes and Social Distance.

Crilly, Sophie (2017) Stigma and Sexual Offenders: The Effect of Mental Illness on Attitudes and Social Distance. University of Portsmouth. (Unpublished)

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Abstract

Stigma affects certain groups within society and results in the discrimination and social exclusion of an individual based on their association with a stigmatized group. This can internally damage the individual and restrict them from basic life opportunities, severely impairing quality of life. Mental illness and offending are both attributes which are stigmatized by the public and can be related; both have increased difficulty re-integrating into society due to stigma. This is a problem for sex offenders, a particular group which elicit severe negative attitudes from the public. This study measured, for the first time, responses towards different types of sex offenders (child sexual abuse, rape, and a control group of violent offender), and whether a diagnosis of schizophrenia impacted these responses. 223 participants completed an online survey measuring punitive attitudes and social distance in response to a vignette. It was hypothesised that the child sex offender would receive the most punitive attitudes and desired social distance. Also, mental illness would sympathise attitudes but increase social distance for the child sex offender. Results showed, as predicted, the child sex offender elicited the most negative attitudes and greatest desired social distance, followed by the rapist then the violent offender. Mental illness only effected responses to social distance, specifically for the child sex offender; having a diagnosis of schizophrenia reduced the amount of social distance desired. This suggests that sex offenders are viewed more punitively than non-sexual offenders, that different types of sex offence are viewed differently, and close proximity with such an offender is not desired. Mental illness neither decreased nor increased negativity for this group, and reduced the desire for social distance for child sex offenders, which has positive implications for forensic psychiatric patients. Implications and future directions for public policy and the re-integration of sex offenders are discussed.

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