Sex Fiends, Perverts, and Pedophiles: Understanding Sex Crime Policy in America

Sex Fiends, Perverts, and Pedophiles: Understanding Sex Crime Policy in America

Sex Fiends, Perverts, and Pedophiles: Understanding Sex Crime Policy in America

Sex Fiends, Perverts, and Pedophiles: Understanding Sex Crime Policy in America

Excerpt

Californians have a tremendous opportunity to make our com
munities safer by voting Yes on Proposition 83, Jessica’s Law. It
is a comprehensive initiative that would strengthen California’s
laws against child molesters and sexual predators.

Both major political parties and every major law enforcement
and crime victims group in California support the proposition.
As district attorney, I know firsthand the importance of passing
Proposition 83. I see how sexual predators exploit the loopholes
and weak laws to repeat their crime over and over again.

—Jan Scully, Sacramento County District Attorney,
October 6, 2006

American media and politics are saturated with stories about sex crime. As the prosecutor describes above, there is a widely shared conception of what the problem is and how to address it: sexual offending is carried out by predators who repeat their crimes and must be stopped through new, tough laws. As a result, since the 1990s, scores of new laws have increased prison sentences and attached extra penalties and restrictions on released sex offenders. Because these laws are often tied to states’ criminal justice funding, they directly influence the functioning of police, court, and correctional personnel, as well as the makeup of prisons and parole systems. The particulars focus on “managing” sex offenders through notification laws and various forms of biological and psychological monitoring. While the public may support the idea of treatment for some offenders, risk assessment and control are far more characteristic of the contemporary approach to sex crime, and prevention is rarely addressed.

Popular tough-on-crime legislation such as Proposition 83, the ballot initiative referenced above, often capitalizes on fears of the violent recidivist who is beyond the reach of any approach except incapacitation (that is, sterilization or castration or even execution). The spirit of California’s “three strikes and you’re out” approach has informed sentencing reform in states . . .

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