Evaluating the utility of person-first language to reduce bias and stigma towards perpetrators of sexual offences.

  • Harleen Cheema MacEwan University


Community attitudes towards persons that have committed sexual offences can have an impact on treatment effectiveness and community reintegration.  The label ‘sex offender’ is highly stigmatized and is associated with many misconceptions that stereotypes them all as being equally untreatable and at a high risk to reoffend.  Such associations may impact decision-making and increase support for ill-informed legislation.  This leads to barriers for released perpetrators of sexual violence to effectively reintegrate and thus increase their risk to reoffend.  Person-first language has begun to replace labels as a means to put the person before the behaviour to lessen stigma and discrimination.  Therefore, the present study aims to explore whether person-first language results in more informed decision-making through reducing stigmatization.  Using online crowdsourcing, adult Canadian participants will be recruited and administered one of six public announcement vignettes that will all be identical except for the type of label used and the victim’s age.  This study will be measuring decisions that underlie: punitive attitudes, perceived treatment amenability, recidivism, and how willing the participant is to have a released individual live in their neighbourhood. We suspect that those in the person-first conditions will answer in a more neutral manner compared to those in the label groups.  Additionally, label groups will be further split into ‘diagnostic’ (i.e., pedophile, sexual sadist) or ‘offence’ labels (i.e., child molester, rapist). If these labels negatively influence perceptions, then these findings would demonstrate a justification for change to person-first language in legislation and media when discussing sexual offending.

Discipline: Psychology Honours

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Sandy Jung