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 (
Victim Empathy, Social Self-Esteem,
and Psychopathy in Rapists
Yolanda M. Fernandez
and W. L. Marshall
The purpose of the present study was to compare the responses of 27 incarcerated
rapistsand27 incarceratednonsexualoffendersusing theRapistEmpathy Measure
(targetingvictim speciﬁcempathy deﬁcits) andto examinethe relationshipbetween
empathy with self-esteem and psychopathy for both groups. The Social Self-Esteem
Inventorywas usedas ameasure of perceivedsocial competenceand thePsychopa-
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 scoreswere notavailable, subjects participatedin
a semi-structuredinterview 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.
Department of Psychology, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada.
To whom correspondence should be addressed at Department of Psychology, Queen’s University,
Kingston, Ontario, Canada K7L 3N6; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
2003 Plenum Publishing Corporation