Kirsten Larner1, Lynne Roberts1, Jessica Sipes1
Public opinion towards sex offenders has typically been measured with questionnaires related to abstract scenarios. This methodology is problematic as it tends to elicit top-of-the-head responses, limiting the potential of a nuanced understanding of these attitudes. In this paper I will present an innovative method for exploring informed public opinion towards sex offenders and their sentencing based on interviews with Australian jurors. As part of a larger project (The National Jury Study), 19 Australian jurors from sex offender (n=17) and grievous bodily harm (n=2) cases across Australia were interviewed to explore reasons for sentencing choices, such as opinions of the offender and their perceived aggravating and mitigating factors, and opinions of the judges’ sentencing in the case on which they tried. The findings were analysed using thematic analysis. The Tripartite Model of Attitudes was used as a framework to explore the three components of attitudes towards sex offenders: affect, behaviour, and cognition. The qualitative data was supplemented with quantitative measures of rehabilitation and punitive attitudes. The integrated findings from the qualitative and quantitative strands will be presented and the implications for future research on attitudes towards sex offenders and their sentencing will be outlined.
Keywords: attitudes, informed public opinion, sex offender, sentencing
Kirsten Larner is currently completing her Bachelor of Psychology (honours) at Curtin University, Western Australia. Her research project is examining informed public opinion towards sex offenders and their sentencing. She is interested in pursuing a career in clinical psychology and academia, and is passionate about psychoeducation and diminishing stigma.