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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must-read!, May 27, 2009
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This review is from: Failure to Protect: America's Sexual Predator Laws and the Rise of the Preventive State (Paperback)
In this insightful book, law professor Eric Janus cogently explains why sexual predator legislation, despite its allure of zero tolerance for sexual violence, makes for very bad public policy.

Predator laws will never work, he argues, because they target only a tiny fraction of sexual violence. An empty "cleansing ritual," they require no fundamental societal change. But they are far from harmless. They siphon vast sums of money away from other programs that could do more good for more people. And they reinforce a distorted notion of sexual assailants as mainly stranger rapists with abnormal psychological makeups.

On a potentially more dangerous level, they provide a template for the resurrection of preventive laws on a massive scale. Janus reminds us of the historical struggles that went into dismantling earlier preventive detention laws that locked up outsiders for what they might (or might not) do. These included slave laws, the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, and eugenic programs to forcibly sterilize and incapacitate "mental defectives." Sexual predator civil commitment laws are especially dangerous because we can all unite around hating the archetypal sexual bogeyman, and the "science" of risk prediction has a scientific and naturalized veneer that makes preventive detention seem more palatable.

One of Janus' most interesting arguments is that - perhaps accidentally - the sexual predator laws have become a powerful force for the politically conservative agenda of dismantling hard-fought feminist rape reforms. The "tabloid model of gender violence" epitomized in these laws favors biological and psychological explanations over sociocultural ones, and supports the patriarchal rape myth that rapists "lack control" over their sexual impulses.

Janus is no newcomer to this topic. He has written and lectured extensively on sex offender civil commitment and psychology-law topics more generally for the past 17 years or so. His knowledge base allows him to back up his arguments with empirical data. In this meticulously researched book, he also offers solutions, such as a public health harm reduction model and the proposition that sex offender risk can be lowered through carefully designed risk management and containment programs.

Everyone who is interested in the prevention of sex offending, as well as the creation of sound, scientifically based public policy, should read this book.
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