Evidence-based prevention strategies derived from the narratives of young sex offenders

Dr Laetitia Coetzee1

1University Of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa

This presentation is based on a study which measured and compared the prevalence of victim empathy in young sex offenders in the emerging adulthood development phase. The study employed a mixed methods approach. Questionnaires measuring the prevalence of empathy for a general sexual abuse victim as well as own victim empathy in young sex offenders were completed by 96 sentenced sex offenders between the ages of 17 and 25 years from three Youth Correctional Centres in South Africa. Comparisons between the two types of empathy indicated that the research participants displayed significantly less empathy for their own victims when compared to their levels of empathy for a general sexual abuse victim. Subsequently, semi-structured interviews were conducted with each of the participants, where in-depth information pertaining to the offenders’ feelings for their victims prior to, during and after the offence was obtained.

One of the objectives of the study was to provide recommendations regarding a need for victim empathy advancement components in intervention programmes aimed at rehabilitating young sex offenders. From their narratives, I could derive that most of the Sex Offender Programmes did not focus on empathy and those that did mainly focussed on general sexual abuse victim empathy. Considering the results of this study, it is evident that programmes should focus on own victim empathy, as that is where the most prominent deficits are displayed. Furthermore, limitations pertaining to sex education and parental involvement were highlighted, which elucidates the importance of government and community intervention programmes.


Dr. Laetitia Coetzee is a lecturer in the Department of Social Work and Criminology at the University of Pretoria in South Africa. She teaches Youth Misbehavior and Victimology on undergraduate and postgraduate level. She holds a BA in Law,  an Honours and a Master’s degree in Criminology (both cum laude) as well as a DPhil in Criminology  The focus of her Doctoral thesis was on victim empathy in youth sex offenders. Her academic fields of interest are sexual offending, youth misbehaviour, crime prevention, Victimology and Penology.


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