I am writing to request your cooperation with a research project I am pursuing, and which is described in this letter. My name is Lisa Anne Zilney, Ph.D. and I am an Associate Professor in the Department of Justice Studies at Montclair State University in New Jersey. I am conducting a study of the experiences and coping mechanisms of the women who are involved in intimate relationships with registered sexual offenders. Like the offender himself, these women face a variety of challenges in responding to how the criminal justice system and society treats the sexual offender and those who associate closely with him once he is released from incarceration. These women are unique in that they provide one of the few sources of support for sexual offender reintegration into the community, but they are also subject to much of the same labeling, and if they reside with the offender are subject to criminal justice sanctions, such as residency restrictions, as well. Familial contact, as has been well established by sociological and criminological research, is a significant buffer against recidivism, yet this notion has not been explored with regard to the sex offender population – a population perhaps in greatest need of a support system to prevent further sexual recidivism.
This study will involve exploring several research questions:
- How do community notification and registration laws impact the female partners of registered sexual offenders?
- How do residency restriction laws impact the female partners of registered sexual offenders?
- Given the hypothesized difficulties resulting from the labeling of sexual offenders and their significant partners, what are the motivating factors for a woman to remain in, or start, a relationship with a registered sexual offender?
- What are the coping strategies implemented by women who are in a relationship with a registered sexual offender to deal with the negative consequences of community notification and registration laws, residency restrictions, and other labeling impacts?
The study will consist of a short quantitative survey for demographic and brief questions, as well as an in-depth, qualitative interview conducted by myself. The interview will focus on the experiences and coping mechanisms of the women. Interviews will be kept completely confidential and identifying information for participants will not be coded and therefore no participant will be linked to her responses.
As principal investigator, and the sole interviewer for this project, I have significant experience researching in the area of sexual offenders and sexual offender legislation and I have recently co-authored two books and one encyclopedia entry (Zilney, Laura J., & Zilney, Lisa Anne. (2009). Perverts and predators: The making of sexual offender laws. New York, NY: Rowman & Littlefield; Zilney, Lisa Anne, & Zilney, Laura J. (2009). Reconsidering sex crimes and offenders: Prosecution or Persecution? Westport, CT: ABC-Clio; Zilney, Lisa Anne, & Zilney, Laura J. (2008). Sex offender laws. In Gregg Barak (Ed.). Battleground: Criminal Justice (pp. 671-681). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press).
The media has created a moral panic around sexual offenders and much of what the public knows is myth and based on this media hype. Legislation has been passed to quell public fear, and while it may do that, it does little to decrease the recidivism of sexual offenders and decrease American rates of sexual violence. Lost in the analysis are the hidden victims . . . the families of sexual offenders who are stigmatized alongside their offending loved one. This work will be the first ever to study the women who are involved in intimate relationships with previously convicted sexual offenders. This study is both original and will become a significant building block in the development of future research. Findings of this research will have policy implications for how to reintegrate sexual offenders into the community after incarceration and how to minimize the labeling effects of criminal justice sanctions on both the offender and his loved ones. Additionally, this research will give a voice to the experiences of those intimately involved with individuals convicted of a sexual offense, and help others understand the impact of labeling on their lives.
It is my sincerest hope that you will encourage members who have significant others that meet the criterion of this study to contact me for participation! I have attached a poster Call for Participants if that would be of help. I would be more than willing to address any concerns you have about this project or answer any questions!
Lisa Anne Zilney, Ph.D.
Montclair State University
Justice Studies Department
1 Normal Avenue, 349 Dickson Hall
Montclair, NJ 07043
Email: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org