The Big Questions

Life, death and free will.

Juvenile Sex Offenders and Homosexuality

Homosexual teen sex offenders

Research reveals that there could be (not so) subtle biases in the decision to try juvenile sex offenders as adults.

Jessica Salerno, Mary Murphy, and Bette Bottoms (psychologists at The University of Illinois—Chicago) asked people to read several scenarios in which a male named David had oral sex voluntarily performed on him by a 14-year-old. David was either described as 35 years old or 16 years old, and the person performing the oral sex (the 14-year-old) was either described as a male or a female. They then were asked if the person should be forced to register as an adult sex offender. 

When the man was described as 35 years old, it did not matter whether or not the act was performed on him by a male or a female. However, when the man was described as 16 years old, people were more likely to think David should have to register as a sex offender when he received oral sex from a 14-year-old male, relative to a 14-year-old female.

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The official reason why people are required to register as sex offenders is to protect society. But this research shows that the reason why people were more likely to want David to register as a sex offender when the oral sex was with a 14-year-old male was moral outrage. (The effect of the oral sex performer's gender on sex offender registry was mediated by moral outrage.) It was not because people were worried about David being a risk to society.

Study 2 tested if these same effects extended to lesbian teenagers. Participants were asked if someone should have to register as a sex offender for sending a naked text picture of themselves to someone else that was either same gender, or opposite gender.

Interestingly, people were more likely to think the person should register as a sex offender when it was a male sexting to a male, relative to male sexting a woman, or a female sexting a male or a female. 

This suggests that gay males might be more likely to be forced to register as sex offenders for similar acts as straight males. But, this does not extend to lesbians.

Nathan Heflick completed his Ph.D. in social psychology at The University of South Florida.

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