Acts of Abuse: Sex Offenders and the Criminal Justice System

By Adam Sampson | Go to book overview

Introduction

We are living in an age when sexual crime dominates the headlines. Scarcely a week goes by without the national newspapers carrying some story of rape, child abuse, or sexual misdemeanour: the allegations of mass rape in the former Yugoslavia; the rape trials of William Kennedy Smith and Mike Tyson in the USA; the continuing saga of Operation Orchid, the massive police investigation of allegations of the murder of tens of boys by a sadistic paedophile ring; the career-ending arrests of the Director of Public Prosecutions and a Conservative MP after allegations of sexual solicitation; the controversy about the existence or otherwise of satanic child abuse; and the events of Rochdale, Cleveland and the Orkneys.

This catalogue of crime has inevitably had its impact upon the public. Public concern about sexual crime has become panic. Women increasingly see themselves at risk of sexual assault, and rape now heads the list of crimes which the public characterizes as serious. 1 Those who perpetrate such crimes are hated and despised more than almost any other offender. Built up into modern folk-devils by the popular press, their treatment at the hands of many people working in the criminal justice system reflects their sub-human status in the popular mind. In the words of a prison officer opening the gate to a sex offenders unit in Wormwood Scrubs: ‘Here be monsters’. 2

Panics about sexual crime are nothing new. History is littered with examples of periods when the public is obsessed by the notion that they, or their children, are at risk of sexual assault. Fifteenth-century Dijon saw a series of gang-rapes involving, on one estimate, half of the young males in the city and leading to high levels of anti-rape hysteria. 3 In the eighteenth century, the

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