The Victimization of Women: Law, Policies, and Politics

By Michelle L. Meloy; Susan L. Miller | Go to book overview

5 Sexual Victimization: Offenders Speak
Out about Their Victims

Citizens cannot understand a sex attack on a child, and this incom-
prehensibility fuels reactions of fear.… The attack and investigation
become front-page news… describing the failure of the justice
system to protect vulnerable persons, which fuels a strong public
reaction.… Government officials then feel compelled to act. (Lieb,
Quinsey, and Berliner 1998:11)

As noted in chapter 4, there are several characteristics that designate a crime (i.e., being unusual), an offender (i.e., being famous), or a victim (i.e., being important) as “newsworthy.” With child sexual victimizations, additional patterns emerge when examining the media’s selection of cases, especially among the crimes with the highest profile. Consider the intense national media coverage of the kidnapping and victimizations of Polly Klass, Megan Kanka, Amber Hagerman, Danielle van Dam, Elizabeth Smart,1 Jessica Lunsford, and Sarah Lunde, and most recently the August 2009 discovery of Jaycee Lee Dugard, who was 11 years old in 1991 when the paroled sex offender kidnapped her while she was waiting for her school bus. She and her two children, fathered by the rapist, were kept in the defendant’s backyard for the next 18 years.2 The victims in these super-high-profile cases were all young, white, female, and assaulted by strangers or non-family members, and each offender had a lengthy history of sexual abuse and violence against women or children. Policy makers and other officials responded to the public’s fear over this type of sex offender, in part by singling out these criminals for differential treatment and legal sanctions. To illustrate, all 50 states now require sex offender registration and community notification, and as of this writing 46 states

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