Locating the Criminal: Civil Sanctions, Sexual Abuse & the American Family
36 Pages Posted: 20 Feb 2018
Date Written: January 1, 2015
In the past decade, provoked by growing social anxiety about sexual predators, state and local restrictions affecting sexual offenders reentering the community have grown more numerous and more severe. In practice, these regulations have not reduced recidivism or otherwise improved public safety. Public attention and enforcement efforts strike at a largely imagined mass of stranger offenders while ignoring the reality of sexual abuse, in which children face the greatest risk of abuse within their own homes. The resulting sex offender laws seem sensible on their face, but are driven by moral impulses, not fact-based analysis.
Traditionally, the law’s protection of privacy in the home has been treacherous for those in positions of weakness. Through incest exceptions and registration and notification exemptions, states demonstrably treat family crime less seriously than stranger crime. While violence within the family is a private issue, stranger offenders are seen as posing danger to all of the community. This article argues that in order to resolve the contradictions between the facts of sexual abuse and prevailing beliefs about the family, lawmakers have created laws that are not only ineffective, but actually counter-effective. These laws enable people to continue to ignore the larger problem of sexual abuse, which is committed primarily in families and by those close to their victims. By placing the blame for social disorder exclusively on stranger offenders, the safety of children is deemed accounted for, without having to institute the systemic change necessary to stop sexual abuse. In a more general sense, it allows the condemnation of child sexual abuse without rocking the patriarchal family boat.
Keywords: criminal law, sexual offenders, family law, privacy, moral panic, sexual abuse
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