A victims' rights group is raising objections to a university research study in whichsex offenderswill be paid for looking at images of children.

In the joint study, to be conducted by University of Toronto and University of Lethbridge researchers, 250 sex offenders will receive $60 each to view computerized images of fully dressed children. Responses to the images will be measured to give researchers some insight into pedophilia.

Shawn Howard, spokesperson for the Calgary-based Canadian Justice Foundation, said he just shook his head when he heard thatsex offenderswill be paid to take part in the study.

"I find it absolutely bizarre that we're even considering funding this," he said. "We already know what sex offenders and pedophiles are capable of. We know the types of images they react to."

Michael Seto, associate psychology professor at the University of Toronto, said the study is an effort to assess risk and to determine more effective treatment.

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Prof. Michael Seto said the study is an effort to assess risk and to determine more effective treatment. ((CBC))

Over the next two years, offenderswho have been convicted of downloading child pornography, but have not abused children, will be compared tooffenders who have abused children.

Seto said he is not surprised that the study has generated controversy.

"I do understand why people are concerned about this, but I hope they don't lose sight of the fact that we're doing this research to understand pedophilia and sexual offending," he said.

Seto said it is standard practice to pay people to take part in clinical studies.

Thestudy is being funded with a $66,000 grant from the Ontario Mental Health Foundation, an organization that receives provincial funding.

Ontario Health Minister George Smitherman said the province plans to claw back any money that the foundation spends on compensatingsex offendersin the study.

"We're inherently uncomfortable with the idea that anyone that is serving time or indeed probation for a matter such as this would benefit in any way related to compensation," he said.

Ethical standards

The Ontario Mental Health Foundation, a provincial agency that supports mental health research, said thestudy meets ethical standards at universities in Toronto and Alberta.

According to the foundation's website, under a list of 2007-2008 funded research grants, the research will increase knowledge of how to assess and manage child pornography offenders.

"The new knowledge to be gained from the proposed study would contribute to our theoretical understanding of the origins of sexual offending against children, because it would help identify factors that influence the likelihood that someone with a sexual attraction to children will act upon that attraction," it says.

"It would also help decision-makers make more efficient use of resources in the assessment, treatment and management of child pornography offenders."

Recruitment ofparticipants for the study is expected to be done with the help of corrections officials, parole officers, hospitals andclinics.

With files from the Canadian Press