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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Sex and beauty determine punishment

    Rebecca Marie Sasnett

    Emily Mackelprang, a clinical psychology graduate student, studied how punishment for sex offenders was affected by their gender and attractiveness. Mackelprang found attractiveness was not a factor in determining punishment for male sex offenders, but was a factor when determining punishments for female sex offenders.

    A UA graduate student recently conducted a study to determine if gender and attractiveness affects people’s opinions on sexual offenders.

    Emily Mackelprang, a clinical psychology graduate student, is studying how these qualities influence the punishments given to sex offenders.

    Mackelprang did her study in two steps. First, she collected pictures of male and female sex offenders and asked UA undergraduate students to rate the offender based on attractiveness and how old they thought the person was. The pictures were all of white individuals to avoid confounding variables, and attractiveness was determined on a scale of one to 10.

    After collecting her data, Mackelprang surveyed 432 UA undergraduate students and had them read a vignette and answer questions.

    “The vignette described a teacher who engaged in a sexual relationship with a student,” Mackelprang said. “The teacher was 35 and the student was 14. It describes how the student came into the classroom after school for tutoring, and the teacher would start rubbing their back, and the student felt uncomfortable but thought it was okay because this was a teacher. It talks about how it slowly progresses from back rubbing to massaging to kissing to intercourse.”

    The stories were given under four different conditions. Participants would read either about a male teacher with a female student or vice versa. Furthermore, participants would either see a picture of an unattractive or attractive teacher. The photos were the same ones that Mackelprang had used in her previous experiment, and she compared teachers of the same attractiveness rating and age against one another.

    Mackelprang asked the participants to answer questions about bail cost for the sex offender and the incarceration length and amount of time they believed the sex offender should spend on the sex registry. She also asked how responsible the teacher or student was and how harmful this relationship was to the teacher or student.

    The study found women were viewed more leniently for all variables. The results also showed that attractiveness made no difference in any variables for male sex offenders, but it did for females. Mackelprang explained that participants rated female teachers as being less responsible for the relationship, and that the victims of female sex offenders were less harmed.

    “People were more lenient toward attractive females and thought they were more harmed by the relationships, so they were more sympathetic toward them,” Mackelprang said.Mackelprang recently submitted her study to the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers.

    Judith Becker, director of the Forensic/Sex Research Lab and Mackelprang’s adviser, was not surprised by the results.

    “Our society appears to really value beauty, and historically, women have not been held to the same standard of responsibility in the criminal area as men,” Becker said.Mackelprang expressed concern over the implications of her results and the overall reticence to recognize the reality of female sexual offenders.

    “When we are judging them more leniently, we’re sending a real message to victims of female offenders that they are not victims, that they weren’t really raped and [that] their trauma doesn’t really count,” Mackelprang said. “… I think that’s very damaging.”


    Follow Kimberlie Wang on Twitter.

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