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

by Chrysanthi Leon New York University Press
Pub Date:
Pbk 263 pages
AU$55.99 NZ$59.12
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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.

 1 Punishment Stories 
 2 The Sexual Psychopath Era: 1930–1955 
 3 The Era of Rehabilitative Debate: 1950–1980 
 4 Sex Offender Rehabilitation in California and How It Worked: 1950–1980
 5 Sex Offender Policy in the Containment Era: 1980–Present 
 6 Experts and Governance: Shifting Politics and Disappearing Strategies
 7 Chilling Effects 
 8 National Sex Offender Punishment Trends since 1920 
 9 Conclusion 
 Appendix A: Research Methodology 
 Appendix B: Timeline: Contexts of Sex Crime Policy 
 About the Author 

"I recommend this work to several audiences...the reader who has a general interest in the erratic development and enforcement of policies on sex crimes will gain much from Leon's comprehensive historical outline of the subject...policy analysts and scholars will appreciate not only the candor and clarity that she brings to the subject, but especially the objectivity that she demonstrates in carefully presenting her research findings."-Michael J. Bolton,Par Public Review

"Sex Fiends, Perverts, and Pedophiles is an ambitious analysis of the get-tough approach to sexual is an interesting and important addition to a body of works published just this year on the legal response to sex offending."-Mary de Young,American Journal of Sociology

"The central chapters of Leon's study provide an illuminating analysis of public discourse and policy change...Leon provides a very readable and erudite history of sex crime policy in the U.S. since 1930...[she] makes an original contribution on a number of fronts."
-R.P. Weiss,Choice

"This book is an interesting and informative narrative of sex offender as it emerged throughout the 20th century."-Jill S. Levenson,Criminal Justice Review
Chrysanthi S. Leon is assistant professor of sociology and criminal justice at the University of Delaware.