Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment [saj] PL103-181 August 1, 2000 9:16 Style ﬁle version Nov. 19th, 1999
Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, Vol. 12, No. 4, 2000
The Nature of Sexual Offenders’ Affective
Empathy: A Grounded Theory Analysis
Stephen D. Webster
and Anthony R. Beech
The aim of this research was to investigate the nature of sexual offenders’ affective
empathy. Thirty-one men participating in a residential treatment program for child
abusers constructed “victim apology letters” as a way of measuring/examining
empathy deﬁcits. The task was videotaped, transcribed, and subject to grounded
theory techniques. It was discovered that intrafamilial offenders were more likely
to minimize their behavior while exhibiting illicit power and control, whereas ex-
trafamilial offenders were more likely to directly blame their victims and exhibit
overtly explicit offense detail. From these open-coded categories, the axial cate-
gories of self as nonoffender, external blaming, and secondary victimization were
derived. These results may have implications for the delivery of victim empathy
components of sexual offender treatment programs.
KEY WORDS: sexual offenders; grounded theory; open coding; axial coding; affective empathy.
Empathy training for the perpetrators of sexual offences is a priority objective
for the vast number of treatment programs. For example, Knopp, Freeman-Longo,
and Stevenson (1992) state that enhancing sexual offender’s empathy was a key
objective of 94% of treatment programs within the United States. Likewise, in
Britain, promoting offender empathy is also a core component within the ma-
jority of treatment programs (Barker & Morgan, 1993). The reason for such a
widespread empathic focus in treatment programs is due to the general consensus
among researches that sexual offenders possess a deﬁciency in empathic ability
HM Prison Service.
University of Birmingham.
To whom correspondence should be addressed at Sexual Offender Treatment Programme, HM
Prison Service, Room 725 Abell House, John Islip Street, London, SW1P 4LH, England; e-mail:
2000 Plenum Publishing Corporation