Empathy, Self-Esteem, and the Adolescent Sexual Offender

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Though empathy training is routinely utilized in the treatment of adolescent sexual offenders, there has been little research to support the link between a lack of empathy and sexual offending. Alternatively, self-esteem building is not as frequently incorporated into treatment. This paper reports our exploration of these two variables as predictors of sexual offense. Offenders' (N = 84) scores on a general measure of empathy were no lower than the scores of nonoffenders (N = 113), although their self-esteem scores were significantly lower. Correlation and regression analyses of empathy and self-esteem with relevant background variables tended to support our findings and the validity of our measures. Ambiguities in the conceptualization of empathy may retard our understanding of its usefulness as a treatment and its power as a predictor of sexual offense. Although limitations in study design point to the need for additional sophisticated research, low self-esteem may be a contributor to adolescent sexual offending and may serve as a target for treatment of these youthful offenders.

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