The more society understands about sexual violence, the more effective the systems that can be put into place to keep people safe, according to Leigh Harkins, PhD, Associate Professor in the Faculty of Social Science and Humanities. The same principle applies to offenders; the more researchers understand about sexual offenders, the better informed treatment protocols and rehabilitation methods can be to ensure these approaches are as effective as possible for corrections services and agencies.
Leading the investigation into the psychology of sexual violence at UOIT, Dr. Harkins' research agenda focuses on sexual aggression, offender rehabilitation and offenses committed by multiple perpetrators. She joined UOIT in January 2013, and her latest research examines whether those with deviant sexual interests process emotional information differently than those without such interests; as well as the perceptions of victim weight in sexual coercion cases. Ongoing work also investigates the factors that contribute to the proclivity of multiple perpetrators offending including peer influence, rape supportive attitudes and psychopathic traits.
Dr. Harkins collaborates with the Good Lives Model of Offender Rehabilitation program which takes a strength-based approach to rehabilitation and focuses on enhancing offenders’ well-being while also reducing their risk of further offending. Her research aims to assess the reliability and validity of a new measure which evaluates the nature of a person’s priorities in life and how these relate to offending behaviour. She also has experience working in sex offender treatment groups at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and within the Correctional Service of Canada.
Inspired by the complex and dynamic nature of applying theoretical aspects of psychology to each offender’s unique case, she earned an Honours Bachelor of Science in Forensic Science and Psychology from the University of Toronto (U of T). During a placement in forensic psychology, studying the rehabilitation of a group of sex offenders, she began to recognize the human side of their behaviour. She completed a Master of Arts in Counselling Psychology for Psychology Specialists from U of T’s Ontario Institute of Education Studies (OISE), and obtained her Doctorate in Forensic Psychology from the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom, where she spent four years as a lecturer in the university’s School of Psychology, before returning to Canada.
Industry Expertise (6)
Mental Health Care
Areas of Expertise (7)
Sex Offender Treatment
Multiple Perpetrator Offending
Good Lives Model
Aggression in Groups
Editorial Board, Journal of Sexual Aggression (professional)
The Journal of Sexual Aggression is a peer-reviewed academic journal that publishes articles about research findings and the development of theory, policy, and practice regarding sexual aggression in all its forms. The scope of the journal extends to the expression of sexual aggression across childhood and adulthood, with regard to abusers, victims, and survivors, irrespective of gender, culture, and sexual preference.
University of Birmingham: PhD, Forensic Psychology 2008
Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto: MA, Counselling Psychology for Psychology Specialists 2004
University of Toronto: Honours BSc, Psychology (Specialist), Forensic Science (Major), Biology (Minor) 2000
- Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers
Media Appearances (1)
FSSH researcher co-edits book on sexual offender treatment
Dr. Leigh Harkins, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Social Science and Humanities, has co-edited a book that offers insights into the treatment of sexual offenders. Sex offender treatment: A case study approach to issues and interventions offers direct access to the practical insights and experience of experts in the field. It describes case formulations, assessment processes and treatment undertaken with specific sexual offender types.
Event Appearances (6)
An Examination of the Relationship Between Good Lives Model Goods and Antisocial Behaviours
Annual conference of American Psychology-Law Society Atlanta, Georgia
Treatment Responsivity of Victim Age Polymorphic Sex Offenders
Annual conference of American Psychology-Law Society Atlanta, Georgia
Annual Conference of the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers
Annual Conference of the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers San Diego, California
The Relationship Between Rape Supportive Cognitions and a Proclivity Towards Multiple Perpetrator Sex Offending
Annual Conference for the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers Montréal, Québec
Poster Presentation: Peer Influence on Perceptions of Sexual Coercion
Toronto, Ontario Annual Meeting of International Association of Sex Research
Examining the Relationships Between Life Priorities and Offending
Annual Conference for the American Psychological Association Toronto, Ontario
Research Grants (1)
Investigation of Sex Offender’s Socio-affective Deficits Using Novel Assessment Approaches
UOIT Office of Research Services and SSHRC Small Research Grant $3771
This collaborative research project examines whether those with deviant sexual interests process emotional information differently than those without such interests.
PSYC 2030U, 2nd Year Undergraduate Course
Forensic Clinical Psychology
PSYC 3050U, 3rd Year Undergraduate Course
Treatment in Forensic Settings
PSYC 3055U, 3rd Year Undergraduate Course
Special Topics, Sex Offenders
PSYC 4999U, 4th Year Undergraduate Course
Code to Come, Graduate Course
The aim of this paper is to examine the role of faith-based communities and activities in helping those convicted of sexual offending to desist from crime and reintegrate back into their communities. It was found that much of the current research is limited to non-offending juvenile populations. Where research has been carried out on adult offenders, these tend to be custodial cases and exclude those convicted of sexual offending. The role of religious and spiritual groups in helping people convicted of sexual offending to desist from crime, while reintegrating into the community is, therefore, unknown.
This article critically examines this theory and the factors and processes that are suggested as contributing to multiple perpetrator rape (i.e., individual, socio-cultural and situational factors including the interactions between them). Some evidence is found to support this model although further research is needed to fully test it.
The purpose of this paper is to examine the extent to which risk is addressed in the risk management planning process of those convicted of sexual offending.
Previous research indicates a strong association between gang membership and increased offending behaviour. Several risk factors for gang membership have been identified and incorporated into integrated and developmental theories of gang membership. Despite this, little is known about the psychological processes that underpin gang membership and enhance the rate of offending within this context. Even less is known of the differences in such psychological processes between gang offenders and those who offend in other contexts. The current study builds on previous research by exploring the role of moral disengagement as one potential process in a prison sample of 269 offenders.
The risk assessment of sex offenders has evolved rapidly over a 20-year period. However, there is still disparity between empirically evaluated approaches and the needs within the applied context. This article discusses the division between the current needs in the applied setting of sex offender risk assessment, and the existing approaches to risk assessment. It highlights key needs that ought to be responded to, to continue the evolution of sex offender risk assessment (i.e., increased automation of processes, additional emphasis on early identification and prevention, and the targeting of resources towards risk). A new risk assessment model termed the Threat Matrix is introduced as a proposed response to these needs.
The aim of this study was to examine the relationship between denial, static risk, and sexual recidivism for offenders with different types of current sexual offense. Denial was defined as failure to accept responsibility for the current offense and was assessed using the Offender Assessment System.
This study assessed the reliability and validity of the Hare Self-Report Psychopathy Scale (Hare SRP) and the short form of the measure in a UK prison sample, using the Psychopathy Checklist Revised (PCL-R) as a reference measure.
The effect of number of perpetrators involved in multiple perpetrator rapes on offense characteristics is underresearched despite beliefs that duos/dyads differ in their interactions and dynamics to groups of 3+ members. We analyzed a national sample of 336 allegations of completed and attempted rape of female victims from the United Kingdom. Rapes committed by multiple (duos and groups of 3+ perpetrators) and lone offenders were compared on offense characteristics (incorporating the approach, maintenance, and closure phases of each rape) and victim and offender sociodemographic characteristics.
This review provides an overview of current knowledge and understanding of the process of sexual grooming and exploitation of children via the Internet. Specifically, the prevalence of online sexual grooming and exploitation is explored as well as associated challenges relating to the identification of its occurrence. This is complemented by a detailed outline and discussion of the process, both online and in the physical world, and legal responses to this phenomenon. A number of factors are examined to provide an explanation of the facilitating and contributing role they may play in offense processes online. Finally, current typologies are discussed in relation to characteristics of Internet offenders in general and "groomers"/chat room offenders specifically. This review concludes by offering suggestions for future research.
The current study examines the relationship between therapeutic climate of sexual offender treatment groups, risk level, psychopathy and phase (i.e., early/later) of treatment.