Date of Award

Spring 5-2023

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Forensic Psychology



First Advisor or Mentor

Elizabeth Jeglic

Second Reader

Cynthya Calkins

Third Advisor

Charles Stone


Previous research has examined negative public perceptions and attitudes towards sex offenders and, in turn, how sex offenders are punished. The present study aims to build on previous research by examining whether perceptions of sex offenders are impacted by the offender’s relationship to the victim, and how victim perpetrator relationship may impact sentencing. Survey data from n=119 participants was examined. Participants were randomly assigned to one of three relationship conditions (i.e., stranger, acquaintance, or spouse) which was manipulated within a mock article vignette describing a rape incident. Subsequently, participants completed questionaries regarding sentencing of the described perpetrator, as well as measures aimed at assessing perceptions and attitudes towards those who have committed a sex crime. Results suggested that there was no difference between attitudes and perceptions in relation to relationship between perpetrator and victim but that post-release punishment strategies were seen as more favorable in a stranger rape situation as opposed to a spousal rape. Moreover, sentence length did not significantly differ due to victim-perpetrator relationship. Familiarity with sexual assault via prior victimization and general attitudes towards those labeled offenders, however, was found to increase the length of prescribed sentence. Implications of this study are wide reaching as results offer insight into how stereotype application can impact public perception and punishment endorsement of sex offenders.


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