Victim empathy, social self-estee...
P1: GRA Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment [saj] pp615-sebu-450812 October 3, 2002 14:13 Style file version June 4th, 2002 Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, Vol. 15, No. 1, January 2003 ( C 2003) Victim Empathy, Social Self-Esteem, and Psychopathy in Rapists Yolanda M. Fernandez1,2 and W. L. Marshall1 The purpose of the present study was to compare the responses of 27 incarcerated rapists and 27 incarcerated nonsexual offenders using the Rapist Empathy Measure (targeting victim specific empathy deficits) and to examine the relationship between empathy with self-esteem and psychopathy for both groups. The Social Self-Esteem Inventory was used as a measure of perceived social competence and the Psychopa- thy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R Hare, 1991) was used as a measure of psychopathy. All participants completed the two self-report questionnaires on empathy and self- esteem in addition, the rapists were required to complete an extra section of the empathy measure that assessed their empathic responses to their own victims. De- mographic information and psychopathy scores were obtained by reviewing insti- tutional files. When psychopathy scores were not available, subjects participated in a semi-structured interview and were scored on the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised by the researcher. Rapists demonstrated more empathy than the nonsexual offend- ers toward women in general and the same degree of empathy as the nonsexual offenders toward a woman who had been a victim of a sexual assault by another male. Of particular importance were the within-group comparisons across victim type for the rapists which revealed significant empathy deficits toward their own victim(s). Interestingly, no differences were found between the rapists and nonsex- ual offenders in terms of self-esteem and psychopathy, and neither self-esteem nor psychopathy significantly predicted empathy for either group. It was concluded from the present study that rapists may suppress empathy primarily toward their own victim rather than suffer from a generalized empathy deficit. It is suggested that empathy deficits in rapists might better be construed as cognitive distortions specific to their victims and should be addressed in that manner in treatment. KEY WORDS: empathy psychopathy self-esteem sex offenders rapists. 1Department of Psychology, Queen���s University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada. 2To whom correspondence should be addressed at Department of Psychology, Queen���s University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada K7L 3N6 e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. 11 1079-0632/03/0100-0011/0 C 2003 Plenum Publishing Corporation
P1: GRA Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment [saj] pp615-sebu-450812 October 3, 2002 14:13 Style file version June 4th, 2002 12 Fernandez and Marshall In recent years, both researchers and clinicians have begun to focus on the issue of empathy, or lack thereof, in sexual offenders. It has been suggested that sexual offenders are able to carry out their assaults, despite clear indications of distress by their victims, because they lack empathy for them (Malamuth, 1988 Williams & Finkelhor, 1990). Some researchers have suggested that studying generalized empathy may obscure real differences between sexual offenders and nonoffenders or among different types of sexual offenders (Hanson, in press Marshall, Hudson, Jones, & Fernandez, 1995). Newer hypotheses propose that sexual offenders may de- liberately suspend empathy toward their own victims in order to accomplish their goal of offending (Marshall, Hudson, et al., 1995). Marshall, Hudson, et al. strongly endorsed context specific research on empathy. They suggested that we should not expect general empathy deficits (i.e., lack of empathy toward all people) in sexual offenders. Although some sexual offenders, such as those who score high on a measure of psychopathy, might reasonably be expected to demonstrate lit- tle empathy toward anyone, the majority of sexual offenders should, according to Marshall, Hudson, et al. be quite empathic in a variety of nonsexual-offense-related situations. A number of authors have described the ���cognitive distortions��� that sexual offenders engage for self-protection (Abel et al., 1989 Marshall, 1996 Murphy, 1990 Segal & Stermac, 1990). Denial, minimization, and rationalization of the offenses effectively disavows or underestimates the harm done to the victim and attributes responsibility to factors outside the sexual offenders themselves. These distortions allow sexual offenders to continue offending by reducing anxiety, guilt, and loss of self-esteem with the most important consequence of these distortions for the present issue being the denial of harm to the victim. Recognition of harm is seen in Marshall, Hudson, et al.���s model as the first, and critical step, in the unfolding of an empathic response (Marshall, Hudson, et al., 1995). Thus, these cognitive distortions effectively prevent offenders from feeling empathy for their victims but this lack of empathy would then be victim-specific rather than indicating a lack of empathy for other people in their lives. Studies using self-report questionnaires have attempted to differentiate be- tween empathy in general and empathy toward particular classes of victims or the offenders��� own victims (Beckett, Beech, Fisher, & Fordham, 1994 Fernandez, Marshall, Lightbody, & O���Sullivan, 1999 Hanson & Scott, 1995 Marshall, O���Sullivan, & Fernandez, 1996 McGrath & Cann, 1995). To date, the results have been promising but, unfortunately, research has been almost exclusively limited to child molesters. The present study attempted to extend these analyses to rapists. Psychopathy, as noted above, should be related to empathy deficits and for that reason an examination of psychopathy was included in the present study. Criminal psychopaths have been described as grandiose, callous, manipulative, egocentric, emotionally labile, impulsive, and exhibiting risk taking behavior (Hare et al., 1990). A number of these characteristics such as callousness, manipulativeness,
P1: GRA Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment [saj] pp615-sebu-450812 October 3, 2002 14:13 Style file version June 4th, 2002 Empathy, Self-Esteem, and Psychopathy in Rapists 13 egocentricity, and emotional lability, could equally well be used to describe the behavior of sexual offenders. Marshall and Barbaree (1990) have noted similarities between the backgrounds of sexual offenders and psychopaths. They have proposed that psychopaths learn a particular style of responding during their childhood as a way of dealing with an aversive world (Marshall & Barbaree, 1990). They suggest that children raised in an uncaring, hostile environment will be unable to develop intimacy or feel empathy, will be socially inept, lacking self-confidence, self- centred, hostile, and aggressive. These features include some aspects of the concept of psychopathy as well as poor empathy and low self-esteem. A number of the items imbedded in the psychopathy measure seem significantly related to empathy (e.g., lack of remorse or guilt, callousness/lack of empathy, conning/manipulative, shallow affect). Thus one might expect sexual offenders who are also psychopathic to exhibit responses that are particularly unempathic. In a similar vein, many sexual offenders are lonely individuals with little intimacy in their lives (Seidman, Marshall, Hudson, & Robertson, 1994) and they manifest social anxiety, underassertiveness, and aggression (Marshall, Barbaree, & Fernandez, 1995). These features are likely to cause particular sexual offenders to lack self-confidence and as a result become self-focused. As a consequence, we would expect such individuals to be significantly less able to empathize with others. Low scores on self-esteem measures have been found in groups of child molesters (Marshall, Christie, & Lanthier, 1979 Marshall & Mazucco, 1995) and low intimacy and loneliness have been found to be strongly correlated with self- esteem (Marshall, Champagne, Brown, & Miler, 1997). Marshall et al. (1997) also reported a strong relationship between poor empathy and low self-esteem in their sample of child molesters. It seems likely that someone who has little self-esteem, and is, therefore, preoccupied with their own shortcomings would not have enough emotional energy left to concern themselves with other people���s feelings. In addition, we might expect that an individual with little self-confidence would be so consumed with meeting their own needs that they might disregard the feelings of others in order to reach their own goals. This may be particularly true for psychopathic individuals who are characterized as callous, manipulative, and egocentric. PRESENT STUDY In much of the previous research with sexual offenders, empathy deficits have typically been approached as nonspecific and stable across time and situations. Most studies have apparently assumed that the potential lack of empathy among sexual offenders is a global deficit referring to feelings toward all people and situations. As we have seen, however, empathy deficits in sexual offenders may be more specific. Marshall, Hudson, et al. (1995) have suggested that a lack of empathy among sexual offenders may be limited to their feelings toward only