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Sex Fiends, Perverts, and Pedophiles

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

Chrysanthi S. Leon
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 263
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    Sex Fiends, Perverts, and Pedophiles
    Book Description:

    From Megan's Law to Jessica's Law, almost every state in the nation has passed some law to punish sex offenders. This popular tough-on-crime legislation is often written after highly-publicized cases have made the gruesome rounds through the media, and usually features harsh sentences, lifetime GPS monitoring, a dramatic expansion of the civil commitment procedures, and severe restrictions on where released sex offenders may live. In Sex Fiends, Perverts, and Pedophiles, Chrysanthi Leon argues that, while the singular notion of the sexual boogeyman has been used to justify these harsh policies, not all sex offenders are the same and such 'one size fits all' policies can unfairly punish other offenders of lesser crimes, needlessly targeting, sometimes ostracizing, citizens from their own communities.While many recognize that prison is not the right tool for every crime problem, Leon compellingly argues that the U.S. maintains a one-size-fits-all approach to sexual offending which is undermining public safety. Leon explains how we've reached this point - with a large incarcerated sex offender population, many of whom will be released in the coming years with multiple barriers to their success in the community, and without much expertise to guide them or to guide those who are charged to help them. Leon argues that we cannot blame the public, nor even the politicians, except indirectly. Instead, we might blame the institutions we charge with making placement decisions and with the experts - both those who have chosen to work in the field and those who have caused its marginalization. Ultimately, Leon shows that when policies intended for the worst offenders take over, all of us suffer.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-6530-2
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-13)

    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.¹ 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...

  5. 1 Punishment Stories
    (pp. 14-24)

    The stories we tell through our media and in other public venues are important. InGoverning through Crime, the sociologist Jonathan Simon tells the story of how the problem of crime became an influential template for reshaping governmental authority in America since the 1960s and describes the consequences for the way American institutions operate in the early years of the twenty-first century. As part of this argument, Simon describes the cultural work that is inspired by crime in predetermining certain roles and scripts: “Crime is a genre, in the dramaturgical sense. It comes with certain kinds of roles: vulnerable victims,...

  6. 2 The Sexual Psychopath Era: 1930–1955
    (pp. 25-53)

    In 1930, the Supreme Court of California rejected Gordon Stewart Northcott’s appeal in the infamous “Wineville murder farm” case. Northcott had been tried and convicted of murdering several boys and disposing of their bodies on his chicken farm. After declaring the facts too gruesome to recount, the court recounted the facts as excerpted above. The court also described the motivation for two other alleged murders:

    It was the theory of the prosecution that the appellant had kidnapped or abducted these boys, who were brothers, and brought them to his chicken ranch in order that he might practice a most unnatural...

  7. 3 The Era of Rehabilitative Debate: 1950–1980
    (pp. 54-76)

    Based on his more than fifteen years of experience as a clinical psychologist who treated sex offenders in state and federal corrections and in private practice, “Manning R. Slater” (a pseudonym) published a book in 1964 that provided “the most startling, the most revealing confessions of sexual perversions ever put in print.”¹ After several decades of exposure to principles of psychotherapy and the emergence of humanist psychology and self-help, when Slater’s book was released there was room for public debates about the nature of sexual offending and the potential for therapeutic cure.

    Ostensibly intended to lessen the stigma, the book...

  8. 4 Sex Offender Rehabilitation in California and How It Worked: 1950–1980
    (pp. 77-106)

    Notwithstanding the broad rehabilitative project described above in theTimes,in this chapter I contrast that rosy view with data that describe how the California penal system worked. From the vantage point of mass imprisonment, it is tempting to look back wistfully at periods in which there was broad public and political support for rehabilitative efforts. Examining the era of rehabilitative debate to see how it worked can provide insight into the limits and possibilities of rehabilitative logic. California’s efforts to reform sex offenders through civil commitment for psychiatric treatment are in many ways emblematic of the aspirations and travails...

  9. 5 Sex Offender Policy in the Containment Era: 1980–Present
    (pp. 107-124)

    In the containment era, the public would rather hear about fantastic accusations of satanic ritual abuse of children than address the more common incidents of sexual violence. In addition, child abuse is now viewed as inherently more harmful because typically its victims are inarguably innocent, while violence against women is complicated by persistent beliefs regarding the complicity of adult victims. This is evident in the McMartin preschool hysteria that dominated the 1980s and 1990s, which I discuss in detail in this chapter, and that eventually resulted in seven arrests and the longest-running and most expensive criminal trial in history. The...

  10. 6 Experts and Governance: Shifting Politics and Disappearing Strategies
    (pp. 125-143)

    In 1951, Dr. Karl Bowman, the psychiatric expert described at length in the sexual psychopath chapter, knew he was swimming upstream. Simple concepts from psychiatry and criminology had made their way into the public’s toolkit, but nuance and complexity did not. While the attributes of the public’s image of the sex offender as bogeyman have not changed much over time, the salience of that monster has dramatically increased for policy makers and has pushed aside competing images. Further, the assumptions associated most strongly with the bogeyman have provided a convenient rationale for increased incarceration, and experts have failed to effectively...

  11. 7 Chilling Effects
    (pp. 144-160)

    In contrast to the overlapping but often distinct fields that shaped ideas about sex offenders in the past, by the containment era the experts are rarely heard challenging the dominant monster construction. This is evident in the Polly Klaas case, which received a blitz of national attention from the media and from elected officials, and it in many ways paralleled Linda Joyce Glucoft’s murder forty-five years prior in its policy impacts. In this chapter I examine such changes in policy since the grieving Glucoft parents were featured in national coverage and turned that kind of public attention into a force...

  12. 8 National Sex Offender Punishment Trends since 1920
    (pp. 161-178)

    The factors identified in previous chapters have joined with mass incarceration since the 1980s to create a prison population increasingly composed of sex offenders—in part this is because most sorting of sex offenders now takes placeafterincarceration. Nationwide, the general patterns of incarceration show trends for rape versus child molestation similar to those in California. According to the best sources of data we have on victimization, rape reporting rates have declined nationwide since 1972. Similarly, the best data on sexual victimization of children, although much less complete, do not show an increase in reporting or prosecution of child...

  13. 9 Conclusion
    (pp. 179-196)

    I spoke with Ryan on Thanksgiving Day in 2008. I was taking a few moments to catch up on correspondence before serving my family dinner; he was sitting alone in his temporary housing at the YMCA. Twenty years earlier, almost to the day, Ryan had urinated in the woods because the portable toilets at his jobsite were occupied. A passing police officer spotted him and issued a citation. Ryan was never handcuffed, arrested, or taken to jail. Instead, the State of Florida treated him much like a citizen who is cited for speeding—he was written a ticket, given a...

  14. Appendix A: Research Methodology
    (pp. 197-202)
  15. Appendix B: Timeline:Contexts of Sex Crime Policy
    (pp. 203-204)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 205-228)
  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 229-244)
  18. Index
    (pp. 245-252)
  19. About the Author
    (pp. 253-253)