Categorization is helpful to human beings because it simplifies situations and allows individuals to conserve mental resources, but it can also lead to stereotypes, which are character- istics unrelated to group membership but used by individuals to describe members of a particular group Herek As the in-group, mainstream society shames stigmatized individuals because of their appearance, values, or behavior, gradually creating a shamed out-group of individuals in society Goffman Shaming can be either reintegrative or stigmatic.
In stigmatic shaming, individuals are permanently shamed and excluded from aspects of societal life Braithwaite American society employs stigmatic shaming in response to individuals who are convicted of a crime, especially those convicted of sexual offenses. The stigmatization of offenders is not always limited to individuals; oftentimes it extends to family members and significant others. Studies of SOs have found that members of their households face similar consequences to those faced by SOs in the community.
Families of registered SOs have been threatened, harassed, assaulted, injured, or had their personal property damaged Levenson and Cotter ; Mercado, Alvarez, and Levenson The stigma attached to criminal behavior not only extends to family members but also to friends, landlords, and employers who may have otherwise considered housing or employing a convicted offender. Depending on their peer groups, age, and environment, the stigma of criminality can even affect the children of offenders, as some are faced with difficult questions regarding the behavior of their parents and are taunted by their peers Phillips and Gates Stigmatization of sex offenders The roots of SO stigma in America can be traced to a moral panic that began in the s.
The sexual repression that marked this time period made the topic of sexuality a social taboo Irvine The initiation of the moral panic occurred in when several newspapers published more than stories involving sex crimes.
These laws reflect the trepidation that the public felt toward SOs during this time. Laws specifying punishments for those convicted of a sexual offense have become more extensive and restrictive in recent decades, which in part reflects the public sentiment toward SOs. The Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act required states to create laws mandating SOs to register their addresses and personal information with local law enforcement.
In addition to the wave of legislation addressing how SOs are controlled in the community, the number of registered SOs has increased exponentially since the implementation of registration and community notification laws Special Analysis Unit The evolution of these laws and the number of individuals they affect necessitate sociological and criminological consideration of the stigmatization of SOs.
A conviction for a sex offense makes it difficult to finding housing and employment and increases the likelihood of social isolation Evans and Porter ; Pager Registered SOs may experience harassment and victimization as a result of their placement on registries Tewksbury and Zgoba ; Zevitz and Farkas although this victimization is not isolated to only individuals listed on SO registries. For those offenders that are able to find a job, they are more likely than non-SOs to be denied promotions at work.
They also face rude treatment in public spaces, being asked to leave businesses, loss of friends who find out about their SO status, harassing and threatening phone calls and mail, and high levels of shame Tewksbury ; Tewksbury and Lees Considerable research has acknowledged the stigmatization that convicted SOs experience Robbers ; Schultz However, not much is known about the stigma that non-convicted SOs face.
Individuals who have been suspected of committing a sex offense may experience discrimination similar to that faced by convicted SOs. It is possible that someone who is only suspected of committing a sex offense could encounter more severe discrimination, isolation, or victimization because they are still living in the community in the proximity of citizens who may be angry that the legal system has not intervened to apprehend and punish them. It is also possible that citizens could pursue vigilante justice to exact punishment that they believe the system is incapable of enacting.
Vigilantism A serious consequence of the stigmatization of SOs is their risk of victimization at the hands of vigilantes. When a community becomes aware of a SO, citizens may harass, discriminate against, or victimize them out of anger or disgust Tewksbury Vigilantes are private citizens who take the law into their own hands to harass, assault, or physically harm another individual.
According to Johnston , there are several components to the definition of vigilantism: However, violence is not always relevant when a SO is the target of vigilantism because exposing a SO in the community, a non- violent act that does not even necessitate contact between vigilantes and their targets, is a tactic in which citizens outside of law enforcement are not generally permitted to engage. There are various explanations for acts of vigilantism. Citizens may take the law into their own hands to punish convicted or suspected offenders because they believe that the legal system is ineffective.
Another explanation for vigilantism is the injustice gap, which describes the discrepancy between a desired and actual punishment Exline et al. The tension between due process and crime control makes it difficult for sentences to appease both concerned citizens and civil rights advocates, often leaving one side unsatisfied following the sentencing of an offender. Citizens may be particularly disturbed by the discrepancy in sentence lengths between SOs and other violent offenders.
The average sentences for sex crimes are not much longer than for other violent crimes—in Washington State, individuals convicted of a sex crime served an average of just over five years in prison compared to just under five years for robbery and more than 3. In particular, child molesters are one of the most stigmatized groups in all of society, and even other SOs who did not offend against a child believe that child molesters deserve stigma and retribution Evans There are consequences to vigilantism.
In addition to the direct effects, which could include physical harm and property damage, vigilantism increases SO fear of victimization. Vigilantism in combination with other social manifestations of stigmatization may amplify deviance because the stress of their identification as a SO interferes with their social functioning.
The prevalence of vigilantism directed toward SOs is unknown, but research indicates that they experience more acts of vigilantism than the public is aware Brannon et al. In addition to registered SOs, individuals who have been suspected of a sex offense or innocent individuals who have been falsely accused of committing a sex offense or incorrectly identified as a SO may become the victims of misinformed vigilantes.
Inaccurate information, incorrect home addresses, and misidentification of individuals have resulted in attacks against innocent individuals who were mistakenly suspected of committing a sex offense Eyssen The public may be more willing to overlook the personal and social harm that results from vigilantism against convicted SOs.
Citizens tend to support vigilantism against SOs due to the perceived extreme nature of their crime Haas, De Keijser, and Bruinsma The current study seeks to address this gap by providing information on incidents involving vigilantes that targeted convicted SOs, those suspected or accused of sex crimes, and the family members or significant others of these individuals.
Research questions It would be extremely difficult to determine the extent of acts of vigilantism against SOs because the number of unreported and unrecorded incidents is unknown, so the purpose of this study is to explore the nature of vigilantism against SOs.
Specifically, we are interested in determining trends in the relationships between vigilantes and their SO victims, reasons that they would target a suspected or convicted SO, their method of attack, and the legal outcome of the attack.
We also collected information on frequencies and demographics of vigilantes and their victims, weapons used in the attack, and locations where incidents occurred. With a limited sample it is difficult to identify consistent trends among vigilante attacks, but this research will provide a better indication of the consequences of the intense stigma that convicted SOs, and even those that are suspected of having committed a sexual offense, experience.
Due to the exploratory nature of the current study, the authors chose to proceed without specific hypothesis,rather usingthe results ofthe data collection to guide the framing of findings. Method For a more thorough understanding of the nature and extent of acts of vigilantism against SOs, this study involved the collection of data on incidents of reported vigilantism in which the victim was a registered SO or accused of a sex offense.
We conducted an exhaustive, open-source search, drawing on techniques used to create the Extremist Crime Database Freilich et al. A three-step data collection process was used that included: Variables of interest included those at the incident-level location of incident, weapon used, reason for attack , vigilante-level vigilante age and sex, relationship to victim , and victim-level sex offense type, living situation.
Google, Yahoo, Bing, and LexisNexis. The research team used a variety of keywords e. Stories of potential incidents were screened using specific inclusion criteria that the vigilante incident occurred in the United States and that the victim was a registered SO or they were targeted because they were suspected of having committed a sex offense. The authors were interested in the total number of incidents of vigilantism against SOs or those accused of committing sexual offenses, regardless of date, leading to a data sample with incidents ranging from until Searching Following the identification of an incident where the inclusion criteria was met, researchers conducted exhaustive searches of the internet using the aforementioned search engines to find all stories relating to the particular incident.
All collected stories were then compiled into a single file for each incident. Inter-searcher reliability checks ensured that the searches were exhaustive. After all relevant publications were collected on vigilante-SO incidents, the authors read each story and coded the information contained within that related to the incident, vigilante, and victim. When coding, a hierarchy of trust was used to reconcile conflicting information and to determine the reliability of information found in stories.
Government publications were considered the most credible, with newspaper stories, and internet news sites accounting for the remainder of the hierarchy. The number of sources reporting information was also considered, and as a result, the most reliable information was entered into the database. We also searched state SO registries for additional information on registered SO victims. State registries were searched using the name of SOs and those accused of sex crimes listed in the online sources.
Information collected and confirmed from state SO registries included the date of registration, their current status on the registry non- compliant, expired, not on the registry , and information pertaining to their sex offense conviction.
The exhaustive search protocol resulted in the collection of incidents involving vigilantes who targeted SOs or those believed to have committed a sexual offense. The following section provides descriptive statistics on the incident, victim, and vigilante-level variables identified in the sources. The first level of data explored was incident-level characteristics.
This included the following information: The next level of data, victim-level character- istics, included the following: Data also included vigilante-level characteristics, which consisted of the following: The coding process uncovered variables related to the specific incidents in which vigilantes targeted SOs as well as the victims and vigilantes involved in the incidents.
It is important to note that a limitation of this database is the amount of missing data. Many of the variables discussed in this section have missing data. The missing data is a result of the data collection method: We revisit this limitation in more depth in our discussion.
Incident-level characteristics As previously noted, open source searching resulted in the identification of separate incidents of vigilantism against convicted SOs or those accused of sex crimes. Table 1 presents descriptive statistics on incident-level characteristics of cases in the Sex Offender-Vigilante database.