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Sexual offending hierarchies, personality attributions, and the clinical implications

Laura Elizabeth Challinor (Centre for Family and Forensic Psychology, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK)
Simon Duff (Forensic and Family Psychology Department, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK)

The Journal of Forensic Practice

ISSN: 2050-8794

Article publication date: 14 August 2017



The purpose of this paper is to examine sexual offending hierarchies constructed by the general public and forensic staff based on personal attitudes and perceived severity of offence. In addition, six sexual offence perpetrators are differentiated using the Five Factor Model of personality.


Vignettes represented six sexual offence perpetrators. Participants built a hierarchy based on perceived severity of offence, before attributing personality characteristics to each offender using a Likert-type scale.


Contact offenders were perceived as more dangerous than non-contact offenders. Rapists were perceived as the most dangerous, and voyeurs the least dangerous. Offenders were attributed significantly different personality traits. Generally, men who sexually offend are perceived to be low in agreeableness, openness and conscientiousness and high in impulsivity, manipulativeness and neuroticism.

Practical implications

The research highlights the importance of individual risk assessment in determining best practice treatment for men who have sexually offended (MSO). The Five Factor Model has been proven to be a useful tool to explore the impact staff attitudes have on risk assessment and treatment. Low-risk and high-risk MSO would benefit from divergent treatment. Consideration should be given to personality characteristics in addition to level of risk.


The research determines a hierarchy of men who sexually offend, and goes beyond the “label” of sexual offenders to explore how personality impacts on formation of attitudes.



Challinor, L.E. and Duff, S. (2017), "Sexual offending hierarchies, personality attributions, and the clinical implications", The Journal of Forensic Practice, Vol. 19 No. 3, pp. 190-197.



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