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Assessing Victim Empathy in Sexual Offenders Using the Victim Letter Task

NCJ Number
Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment Volume: 14 Issue: 4 Dated: October 2002 Pages: 281-300
Stephen D. Webster
Connie Isaac
Date Published
October 2002
20 pages
This study set out to develop and evaluate templates to measure and judge the quality of victim apology letters compiled by child molesters and rapists and used for empirical and/or clinical purposes.
It has been common practice to have sexual offenders write a letter of apology to their victim, revealing their level of empathy/understanding the offender has for the victim. However, there has been no method for judging the quality of the sexual offender’s sympathy or understanding. The objective of this study was to develop and refine two templates that could be used to score the quality of victim apology letters written by sexual offenders. The development of the templates and the collection of psychometric properties was divided into three phases that included: (1) an examination of the applicable categories derived by Webster and Beech (2000); (2) testing statements taken from victim letters for reliability; and (3) constructing two templates that could score victim letters written by child molesters and rapists and develop the reliability and validity of the measures. Assessment measures and instruments utilized in the study included: (1) the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI); (2) the Empathy for Women measure; and (3) the Sex Offense Attitude Questionnaire (SOAQ). The results provide some preliminary evidence that the content analysis templates are reliable instruments that can be used to score and assess victim letters and the templates appear to assess change in sexual offenders’ level of victim-specific empathy following therapeutic intervention. A weakness was identified regarding template development in terms of the low item-total correlations. This study offers preliminary evidence that qualitative material related to victim empathy in sexual offenders can be reliably scored and used for either empirical and/or clinical purposes. Appendices and references


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