Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment [saj] pp526-sebu-375646 July 15, 2002 17:1 Style ﬁle version June 4th, 2002
Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, Vol. 14, No. 4, October 2002 (
Assessing Victim Empathy in Sexual Offenders
Using the Victim Letter Task
Stephen D. Webster
In attempting to enhance victim empathy, it is common to have sexual offenders
write an apology letter to their victim. This task is thought to reveal the level of
empathy that the sexual offender has for his victim. However, until now there has
been no reliable method for judging the quality of empathy revealed in the victim
letter. This paper reports the development and evaluation of 2 templates to score
letters written to child victims and adult victims, respectively. An acceptable level
of interrater reliability was obtained for the templates. Deﬁcits revealed by the
templates did not correlate with scores on a generic empathy measure but did
correlate with scales measuring minimization and denial. The measures were also
sensitive to change following empathy training.
KEY WORDS: sexual offenders; victim speciﬁc empathy; victim letter scoring templates.
There appears to be little doubt that sexual offenders are devoid of empathy
for their victims (Finkelhor, 1986; Marshall, Hudson, Jones, & Fernandez, 1995).
In response to this, the majority of treatment programs target empathy (Knopp,
Freeman-Longo, & Stevenson, 1992). In a comprehensive review of empathy in
sexual offenders,Marshall, Anderson, and Fernandez (1999) state that deﬁning the
concept per se is a difﬁcult and confusing process as there is often disagreement
as to whether the concept is composed purely of cognitive elements, affective el-
ements, or a combination of both. Nonetheless, a number of authors agree that a
valid way of conceptualizing empathy is via multicomponent models that encom-
pass both cognitive and emotional factors (Davis,1980; Hanson, in press; Marshall
HM Prison Service, London, England.
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2002 Plenum Publishing Corporation