Sunday, March 16, 2008


America's Sexual Predator Laws and the Rise of the Preventive State (link)
Eric S. Janus

Most crimes of sexual violence are committed by people known to the victim—acquaintances and family members. Yet politicians and the media overemphasize predatory strangers when legislating against and reporting on sexual violence. In this book, Eric S. Janus goes far beyond sensational headlines to expose the reality of the laws designed to prevent sexual crimes. He shows that “sexual predator” laws, which have intense public and political support, are counterproductive. Janus contends that aggressive measures such as civil commitment and Megan's law, which are designed to restrain sex offenders before they can commit another crime, are bad policy and do little to actually reduce sexual violence. Further, these new laws make use of approaches such as preventive detention and actuarial profiling that violate important principles of liberty.

Janus argues that to prevent sexual violence, policymakers must address the deep-seated societal problems that allow it to flourish. In addition to criminal sanctions, he endorses the specific efforts of some advocates, organizations, and social scientists to stop sexual violence by, for example, taking steps to change the attitudes and behaviors of school-age children and adolescents, improving public education, and promoting community treatment and supervision of previous offenders.

Janus also warns that the principles underlying the predator laws may be the early harbingers of a “preventive state” in which the government casts wide nets of surveillance and intervenes to curtail liberty before crimes of any type occur. More than a critique of the status quo, this book discusses serious alternatives and how best to overcome the political obstacles to achieving rational policy.

"Janus makes a persuasive case that by throwing vast resources at a few offenders while hiding the true scope of sexual violence, sexual predator laws do more harm than good. Not only is the public not much safer than it was before civil commitment became widespread, he writes, but we've unleashed a political monster."—Minneapolis/St. Paul City Pages

"Nowhere in Failure to Protect does the author minimize the damage done by criminals . . . . The problem, Janus says, is that extreme offenders have been incorrectly cast as the archetypal sex criminal. The result has been laws that reflect and reinforce a distorted view of sexual violence, remove resources from more effective policies, and are the signs of a constitutionally questionable 'preventive state.' Janus argues that sexual predator laws reflect a conservative backlash against hard lessons learned from the feminist movement about the systematic nature of sexual violence in society. and the fact that most sexual offenses are committed by a member of the victim's family or social circle. He identifies misconceptions about recidivism and questions 'actuarial' approaches that assign a static risk rating to an individual and ignore changes from treatment, aging, or altered circumstances."—Chronicle of Higher Education

"Eric S. Janus explores sexual predator laws from three perspectives: public safety, civil liberties, and effective government. He moves beyond the quick and easy arguments used both to defend and attack these laws, seeking policy solutions that can reduce sexual violence without scarring our constitutional values."—Roxanne Lieb, Director, Washington State Institute for Public Policy

"Failure to Protect is a vitally important book that demonstrates how we have drastically undermined the protections of our Constitution by creating a class of citizens for whom these protections no longer apply. The book raises this question: if one class of citizens can be excluded from the Bill of Rights, what other classes can also be excluded later on? This book should be essential reading for lawyers, law students, and those who care about preserving our liberties."—Charles Reich, Yale Law School, author of The Greening of America

About the Author
Eric S. Janus is Vice Dean and Professor of Law at William Mitchell College of Law. He is the author of Law and Mental Health Professionals and Civil Commitment in Minnesota.

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