Dehumanisation and attitudes toward the punishment and rehabilitation of child sex offenders: A New Zealand study
Child sex offenders are a group often regarded as dangerous and high risk, leading to increased support for offender registration policies which monitor the whereabouts of offenders after release. These policies have the intended aim of increasing public safety, however a wide body of research supports the idea that negative attitudes towards offenders underlie the creation of these policies more than empirical evidence of their success. Dehumanisation is a psychological process that deprives others of characteristics unique to both human beings and human nature, which has been established to predict increased support for punishment and decreased support for rehabilitation for child sex offenders. The current study aimed to examine the role of dehumanisation in support for punishment and rehabilitation of child sex offenders throughout two studies: first via the undertaking of an online survey using a sample of 228 university students and members of the public, second throughout three focus groups containing a total of 22 university students and members of the public. Dehumanising attitudes in relation to preference between the RNR and GLM models, two key frameworks for child sex offender rehabilitation, were also examined for the first time in the current study. Findings indicated that: 1) both moral outrage and dehumanisation predicted support for harsher forms of punishment and withdrawn support for rehabilitation, 2) victim age did not impact dehumanisation scores, 3) type of offense impacted both dehumanisation and support for post-release monitoring and 4) dehumanisation did not predict RNR over GLM preference. Limitations of the current study and implications for policy and practice, future research regarding uniquely human characteristics, victim age and RNR/GLM preference are discussed.