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Cleary Receives PerQ Award

Headshot of Hayley, Cleary Ph.D.
Headshot of Hayley, Cleary Ph.D.

Hayley Cleary, Ph.D., assistant professor of Criminal Justice, has received a grant from the VCU Presidential Research Quest Fund for her proposal, “Testing the General Deterrent Impact of Adolescent Sex Offender Registration Policies.”

Cleary will pursue an interdisciplinary exploration of the influence of public policy and social norms on adolescent sex offending, integrating principles of criminology with contemporary perspectives from developmental science.

In collaboration with a colleague from SUNY-Albany, Cleary has designed a three-wave prospective longitudinal study to examine the complex relations among adolescents’ awareness of sex offender registration policies, their engagement in sexual behaviors that could result in registration, and the potential moderating influences of both criminological and developmental factors. Cleary’s PeRQ award will fund the first phase of the study.    

She will investigate the extent to which adolescents are aware that certain sexual activities put them at risk for sex offender registration and whether such knowledge deters adolescents from engaging in future sex offending, including nonviolent sexual behaviors that are technically illegal yet developmentally normative—for example, consensual sex between similar-aged peers, sexually explicit text messaging or “sexting”.  The project represents the first known study to prospectively investigate whether adolescent sex offender registration policies have an impact on registration-eligible sexual behaviors among adolescents.

Cleary will also explore whether sanction certainty and psychosocial maturity moderate the effects of registration policy awareness on adolescents’ sex offending.

“I am very honored to receive this PeRQ award, which will enable us to examine competing theories about adolescent sexual behavior,” she said. “Deterrence theory suggests that serious legal consequences, such as having to register as a sex offender, would reduce sexual offending." 

“However, contemporary developmental science suggests that hedonic drive and poor judgment are compelling forces that may override the threat of consequences when adolescents find themselves in sexual situations,” she continued. “Examining youth behavior over time will help us overcome some of the limitations of prior research in this area.”