University Students' Perceptions of Child Sexual Offenders: Impact of Classroom Instruction

J Child Sex Abus. 2018 Apr;27(3):276-291. doi: 10.1080/10538712.2018.1435598. Epub 2018 Mar 20.


Research with the public suggests that knowledge about sexual offenders, especially child sexual offenders, is limited and often inaccurate. In general, the public tends to believe that adults who commit sex crimes against children are pedophiles or monstrous strangers who cannot be rehabilitated. However, there is some evidence to suggest that these perceptions can be changed through curricular intervention. The current study was designed to determine whether a course on sex crimes against children could influence college students' knowledge and attitudes toward child sexual offenders. In a pretest-post-test design, students enrolled in the sex crimes course endorsed fewer stereotypes had more positive attitudes toward treatment and offender rehabilitation, along with reduced support for punitive sentencing compared with students enrolled in a general psychology class. Implications for improving public attitudes and suggestions for informing public policies are offered.

Keywords: Child sexual offenders; legislation; pedophilia; sex offender management policies.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / psychology*
  • Criminals*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pedophilia / psychology*
  • Perception*
  • Public Opinion
  • Students
  • Universities
  • Young Adult