Two studies addressed how people punish juvenile sex offenders in ambiguous punishment contexts. Sex offender registry laws now make voluntary sexual activity between juveniles a registration-worthy offense in the U.S. Using contemporary prejudice theories as a theoretical framework, we tested whether the ambiguity surrounding the application of these laws to juveniles provides a context for expression of prejudice against gay youth. In the ambiguous context of 2 juveniles having consensual sex, people supported sex offender registration more for gay, versus heterosexual, offenders. This punishment discrimination did not emerge, however, in the societally less ambiguous context of an adult having sex with a juvenile. Study 2 revealed that punishment discrimination again emerged against gay male juveniles but not lesbian juveniles. Across both studies, punishment discrimination against gay juveniles was consistently mediated by retributive motives (moral outrage), but less consistently by utilitarian motives (concern about protecting society)-the stated legislative purpose of registration.
- Juvenile justice
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Social Psychology
- Sociology and Political Science