Sex panic and the punitive state

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Long-standing sodomy laws prescribed lengthy prison sentences for men convicted of homosexual intercourse with a consenting adult [...]. Treatment for sex offenders included group therapy, drug regimens, electroshock, and frontal lobotomy. [...]

Psychological "treatment" for civilly confined sex offenders is largely unscientific, based more on therapeutic fad and conjecture than on any body of informed evidence or double-blind studies. [...]

[T]he devising of exceptional laws to deal with them [sex offenders], and various efforts at purging them from their communities all reenact the logic of "social death," a term introduced by the sociologist Orlando Patterson to describe the condition of slavery. As James Waller summarizes, three features define social death: "Subjection or personal domination, excommunication from the legitimate social or moral community, and relegation to a perpetual state of dishonor." The concept has been applied to the situations of black prisoners under current conditions of mass incarceration, the legal limbo inhabited by terror suspects who have been classified as "unlawful enemy combatants," and the position of Jews in Nazi Germany, whose social death was a forerunner of genocide. [...]

The culture of sexual fear, which has permeated a wide swath of public political culture today, resembles the psychological milieu of the late Weimar cinema, whose dread of the city, fear of strangers, and celebration of the safety of the heart anticipated the coming of fascism. [...]

Some states even require parents to report to the police if they discover that their teenage kids are having sex - and make it a crime for them not to do so. Mississippi's Child Protection Act of 2009 defines as abuse a parent's "toleration ... of the child's sexual involvement with ant other person." [...]

Countervailing political organizations devoted to rights of the accused, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, receive no federal subsidy. Thus the victims' rights movement [which receive subsidy], and its varies components, can only be described as a state-sponsored political movement. [...]

It [a demystified approach to sex and violence] might allow for distinctions between morality and law, whose conflation does much to discredit both. It might even eventually result in more nuanced laws and procedures (e.g., punishments calibrated for varying degrees of infraction, realistic ages of consent).

source: From the book 'Sex Panic and the Punitive State' by Roger N. Lancaster; University of California Press; Berkeley, Los Angeles, London; 2011