Exploring the stigmatisation of offending and non-offending paedophiles: a terror management approach

Abbie Maroño*, Ross M. Bartels, Kimberley Hill, Theodoros Papagathonikou, Glenn Hitchman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: Paedophilic individuals are a highly misunderstood and stigmatised group, with the general public tending to equate paedophilia with child sexual abuse. Given that paedophilia is often conflated as a psychiatric/mental health disorder and an extreme violent offence, the current study examined whether the stigma towards paedophilic individuals is related to negative associations with severe mental illness and extreme violence. The authors also used the terror management theory (TMT) to provide further insights into why paedophilia is so highly stigmatised.

Design/methodology/approach: A sample of 126 participants was split into one of six conditions and provided punitive and moral character judgements, as well as salience of death thoughts. Conditions were divided into three main stigma conditions (paedophilia vs schizophrenia vs homicidal ideation), which were further divided into two conditions (offending vs non-offending).

Findings: Results showed that judgements were harsher in the offending conditions than the non-offending conditions. Results also showed that the stigmatisation of paedophilic and schizophrenic individuals may be mediated by terror management processes. These findings suggest that paedophilia is believed to be associated with severe forms of mental illness where an individual is not able to control their own state of mind.

Research limitations/implications: Thus, addressing perceptions of dangerousness towards individuals with severe mental illness is a crucial step towards developing effective strategies to help reduce such stigma.

Originality/value: As one of the first studies to use TMT in this way, the current study provided much-needed insight into an important and under-researched area using available methods for such a sensitive topic.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)157-172
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Criminal Psychology
Issue number3
Early online date28 Feb 2023
Publication statusPublished - 29 Jun 2023


  • Mortality salience
  • Non-offending paedophile
  • Non-sexual offense
  • Paedophilia
  • Stigma
  • Terror management theory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Applied Psychology
  • Law


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