There is nothing unusual about a footballer being sent marriage proposals, women's underwear and letters smudged with lipstick. Fan mail is part and parcel of Premier League life. But when that footballer is a convicted child sex offender sentenced to a six year jail sentence? It's downright disturbing.

Yet it has been claimed that Adam Johnson has been receiving letters from women ever since he was convicted of sexual activity with a 15-year-old girl. According to The Daily Star, the 28-year-old is sent hundreds a week from teenagers to older women. There are even groups on Facebook where women are supporting him.

"There seems to be an unusual attraction," says Ian Stephens, a forensic psychologist. "It's not the kind of thing you have the average person doing. I don't think we find men writing to women in prison who have been involved with this sort of crime."

The phenomenon whereby people develop romantic attachments with prisoners already exists. It's called hybristophilia, and typically sees women fall in love with serial killers, murderers or violent men. Research in this area suggests these women are seeking protection from the object of their affections, and are attracted to what they see as their 'alpha male' behaviour.


But Stephens believes there are crucial distinctions between women being attracted to men convicted of sexual crimes, such as paedophilia or rape, rather than violent crimes. "I think there are differences in what they're looking for," he says. "One is sexual and one is violent. Neither one of which is healthy."

There is little research into the idea of women being attracted to sex offenders, such as Johnson, but Stephens suggests it plays into their sexual fantasies - and will be particularly common in people with sadomasochistic tendencies.

"It's almost like there's a risk and it's attractive to them," he explains. "They might find it exciting. It's like they're saying 'I want to be a victim'. It's not that they necessarily want the man to do that to them - it's more like a fascination."

He suggests that this is why the letters being sent to Johnson are so sexual in nature: "It's all part and parcel of the fascination and trying to attract someone. They might not be able to feel attracted to people outside. Some even see themselves as helping these people."

Of course, there's the possibility that, in Johnson's case, these women were always fans of the footballer and are drawn to him because of his status as a celebrity. But Dr Elie Godsi, clinical psychologist and author of Violence and Society: Making Sense of Madness and Badness, says it's likely that anyone who's attracted to Johnson has problems of their own.

"They don't know him. So what they're bringing to the table isn't to do with him but their own issues. I'd suggest some have abuse in their own history. In order to project this fantasy figure, you have to ignore the realities of the abuse he has committed. Some people who have been abused are already in denial; that's part of their mechanism to normalise it."

There are other examples of women falling for sex offenders. The former Lost Prophets singer, Ian Watkins, has hundreds of devotees even though he was jailed for child abuse for 35 years.

There are Facebook pages called 'Ian Watkins is our crush' and 'Ian Watkins is a sex god'. One fan wrote that Watkins also receives fan mail: "I am in touch with female fans who have written to him sending pictures, telling him they'd wait for him when he is released. Others don't believe he is really guilty and still want to marry him. I know people who have sent money and ­shampoo and deodorant so Ian realises his fans are ­thinking about him."

But usually, that's as far as it goes. Stephens explains that when the convict is released, the fans tend to disappear.

"It's fear," he says. "They don't want the real thing. It's fine when they're locked away. They're protected. They often don't even visit them. But when they're out, they don't want to take the risk."

The unreality of it all is what appeals to these women. "They can't meet them or spend time with them or share a bedroom with them," adds Dr Godsi. "It's safe.

"When you're writing to someone from a distance you don't have to deal with reality. There's no real boundaries. It's completely artificial."