Failure to Protect
America's Sexual Predator Laws And the Rise of the Preventive State
In his new book, Vice Dean and Professor Eric S. Janus exposes the broad threat to civil liberties inherent in today's aggressive "sexual predator" legislation.
Laws such as civil commitment and Megan's law are reactions to sensationalistic crimes committed by predatory strangers, which are actually quite rare. Despite political and media hoopla, these aggressive laws are bad public policy and do little or nothing to reduce the majority of sexually violent crimes - committed by people known to the victim and family members.
The current sexual predator legislation also puts everyone's civil liberties at risk by legitimatizing preventive detention and actuarial profiling. Janus warns that these laws may be early harbingers of a "preventive state," in which government casts wide nets of surveillance and intervenes to curtail liberty before crimes of any type occur.
Instead of passing legislation that undermines everyone's legal rights, Professor Janus advocates more successful ways of preventing sexual violence. Going beyond critique, he proposes serious alternatives to the status quo, through a combination of criminal sanctions, public education, and community treatment and supervision of previous offenders. He also discusses how to overcome political obstacles to achieving rational policy.
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.
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.