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Leigh Harkins, PhD - University of Ontario Institute of Technology. Oshawa, ON, CA

Leigh Harkins, PhD Leigh Harkins, PhD

Associate Professor, Faculty of Social Science and Humanities | University of Ontario Institute of Technology

Oshawa, ON, CANADA

Sexual violence expert who develops methods to enhance rehabilitation outcomes for offenders, and create safer communities



Leigh Harkins, PhD Publication







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)



Law Enforcement

Mental Health Care



Areas of Expertise (7)

Sexual Violence

Sex Offender Treatment

Sexual Coercion


Multiple Perpetrator Offending

Good Lives Model

Aggression in Groups

Accomplishments (1)

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.

Education (3)

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

With Distinction

Affiliations (1)

  • Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers

Media Appearances (1)

FSSH researcher co-edits book on sexual offender treatment

UOIT  online


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.

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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.

Courses (5)

Abnormal Psychology

PSYC 2030U, 2nd Year Undergraduate Course

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Forensic Clinical Psychology

PSYC 3050U, 3rd Year Undergraduate Course

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Treatment in Forensic Settings

PSYC 3055U, 3rd Year Undergraduate Course

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Special Topics, Sex Offenders

PSYC 4999U, 4th Year Undergraduate Course

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Code to Come, Graduate Course

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Articles (10)

Examining the Role of Faith Community Groups with Sex Offenders: A Systematic Review Aggression and Violent Behavior


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.

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Multiple Perpetrator Rape: A Critical Review of Existing Explanatory Theories Aggression and Violent Behavior


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.

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Effective Risk Management Planning for Those Convicted of Sexual Offending Journal of Aggression, Conflict and Peace Research


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.

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The Role of Moral Disengagement in Street Gang Offending Psychology, Crime, and Law


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.

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The Development of a New Risk Model: The Threat Matrix Legal and Criminological Psychology


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.

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Relationships Between Denial, Risk, and Recidivism in Sexual Offenders Archives of Sexual Behaviour


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.

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Assessing the Validity of the Self Report Psychopathy Scale in a UK Offender Population Journal of Forensic Psychiatry and Psychology


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.

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Heterogeneity Within Multiple Perpetrator Rapes: A National Comparison of Lone, Duo, and 3+ Perpetrator Rapes exual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment


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.

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Online Child Sexual Exploitation: Prevalence, Process, and Offender Characteristics Trauma Violence & Abuse


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.

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The Influence of Risk and Psychopathy on the Therapeutic Climate in Sex Offender Treatment Annals of Sex 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.

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