The Relationship Between Policy, Media, and Perceptions of Sexual Offenders Between 2007 and 2017: A Review of the Literature

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Trauma Violence & Abuse

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Sexual violence is a prominent social problem that harms many victims every year. Perpetrators of these crimes tend to exist in a binary. Some are convicted by the criminal justice system, where they face sanctions such as jail time and registration and are demonized by society. Others never face any sanctions for harm caused and are exonerated for their actions. This review examines public perceptions of sexual offenders in the United States through the institutional-level constructs of federal policy, media, and institutional myths. A review of the literature on this topic from 2007 to 2017 produced 37 relevant articles, which were placed into three categories using thematic analysis: (1) perceptions about sexual offenders and perceiver differences, (2) media about sexual offending and effects of media consumption on perceptions of offenders, and (3) support for offender policies and effects of policy on perceptions of offenders. A review of these topics reveals that there are prominent institutional myths about sexual offending. A cyclical relationship is formed, where media perpetuates institutional myths, myths drive policy, and policy leads to media reporting. This review utilizes community psychology theory to examine and interpret the literature as well as to formulate research and intervention suggestions


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