Men with intellectual disabilities with a history of sexual offending: empathy for victims of sexual and non-sexual crimes

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Abstract

Background

The objectives were (a) to compare the general empathy abilities of men with intellectual disabilities (IDs) who had a history of sexual offending to men with IDs who had no known history of illegal behaviour; and (b) to determine whether men with IDs who had a history of sexual offending had different levels of specific victim empathy towards their own victim, in comparison with an unknown victim of sexual crime, and a victim of non-sexual crime, and make comparisons with non-offenders.

Methods

Men with mild IDs (n = 35) were asked to complete a measure of general empathy and a measure of specific victim empathy. All participants completed the victim empathy measure in relation to a hypothetical victim of a sexual offence, and a non-sexual crime, while additionally, men with a history of sexual offending were asked to complete this measure in relation to their own most recent victim.

Results

Men with a history of sexual offending had significantly lower general empathy, and specific victim empathy towards an unknown sexual offence victim, than men with no known history of illegal behaviour. Men with a history of sexual offending had significantly lower victim empathy for their own victim than for an unknown sexual offence victim. Victim empathy towards an unknown victim of a non-sexual crime did not differ significantly between the two groups.

Conclusions

The findings suggest that it is important include interventions within treatment programmes that attempt to improve empathy and perspective-taking.

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