Sex Crime, Offenders, and Society: A Critical Look at Sexual Offending and Policy

Sex Crime, Offenders, and Society: A Critical Look at Sexual Offending and Policy

Author: Christina Mancini
Publisher: Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press, 2014.
Reviewer: Amber L. Morczek | March 2015

Criminal offenses of a sexual nature are undoubtedly a contentious issue in the United States due, in part, to the tremendous impact on the victim (especially child victims), the often violent nature of the crime as well as the distinctive sense of fear emanating from the release of the seemingly incurable sex offender post-incarceration. Thus, to say sex offending is a polarizing topic is an understatement, as it seems everyone, from laypeople to academics alike, formulate robust opinions on the topic (often to the contrary) and frequently rooted in sensationalism and myth. Therefore, books on the subject should be both carefully researched and exquisitely presented, while also addressing a wide array of issues that fall under the topical umbrella of sexual offending. Successful at the aforementioned prerequisites is Christina Mancini’s book, Sex Crimes, Offenders, and Society: A Critical Look at Sexual Offending and Policy. The “textbook-esque” read appropriately complements previous sex offending literature by offering readers a scrupulous overview of all issues inherent to a healthy review of sexual offending without being offensively verbose or difficult for those outside the social sciences to follow.

The text begins with a synopsis of sex crimes and types of sex offenders. The typologies covered in Chapter 1, “Sex Crimes and Offenders,” highlight the significant heterogeneity among sex offenders by examining different groups including: child molesters, rapists, juvenile sex offenders, female sex offenders, and cyber-sex offenders. Strengthening an already fruitful section on sex offender types, the author uses tables to concisely deliver the information on the aforementioned typologies, allowing readers to then quickly reference the variable characteristics of sex offenders with just a cursory glance.

Another noteworthy component of the book is the section on rape culture discussed in the Feminist Perspective section of Chapter 4, “Prominent Theoretical Explanations.” As noted by the author, rape culture is one in which violence toward women is trivialized, normalized and justified, rape myths are perpetuated, victim-blaming is unexceptional, and women are often portrayed as objects rather than subjects. Rape culture is perhaps most evident when one examines varying forms of mass media, such as movies, television, advertising, music, and pornography. Many feminist readers will value the inclusion of this section, considering contemporary discussions of the cultural underpinnings of violence toward women, especially sexual violence, are at a fever pitch. To be sure, this section provides readers with insight into a provocative concept often noticeably absent outside of feminist circles.

Chapter 5, “Societal Myths (and Facts) about Sex Offenders,” is perhaps one of the most useful chapters in the entire text, as misconceptions about sex crimes abound, and especially so to those new to this ever-expanding field of study. This section, dedicated to dispelling commonly held myths, is a good addition to the text, as it challenges the reader to expand their thoughts beyond erroneous and superficial conceptions of sexual offense characteristics, sex offenders, and sex offender policy. The author reviews the numerous falsehoods about sex crimes by evaluating previous research on each subject — all while challenging the reader to move beyond fallacy to view the issues presented through an objective lens. For example, the author addresses the misconception that sex offenders are a homogenous group of criminal offenders who require “one size fits most” policy for management. Mancini judiciously indicates that blanket policies such as sex offender registries and residency restrictions may not only be of limited effectiveness (given that, by proxy of another myth she dispels, most sex offenses are committed by a perpetrator known to the victim), but may also have unintended collateral consequences for both the offender and the community. Overall, the information included in this chapter is refreshingly forthright, amalgamating earlier work on the topic. This section alone is worth a read by both laypeople and academics alike.
The chapter, “Public Attitudes Toward Sex Offenders,” clarifies much of the rationale for modern sex offender legislation. Particularly gruesome crimes, frequently against children, purportedly high sex offender recidivism rates, and exasperation with the criminal justice system’s presumed failure, are issues of both public and legislative concern. The author points out that despite this punitive movement directed at sex offenders dating back to the 1990’s, public opinion on the issue fluctuates radically depending on a variety of factors such as victim and offender characteristics. For example, the public tends to favor comparatively punitive responses for sex offenders, especially male sex offenders, as the age of a victim decreases. Thus, sex offenders of children predictably merit the most punitive formal and informal sanctions. Moreover, coinciding with a more punitive mentality, the author notes that the public is deeply skeptical about the effectiveness of sex offender treatment, and views such treatment as largely fruitless, despite its variability and considerable research demonstrating success. This view not only has profound implications for current and future treatment programming, but highlights how vastly incompatible public perceptions are with the empirical research on sexual offending.

Mancini concludes the book by emphasizing the future of sex crime policy. She addresses efforts to encourage reporting of sexually based offenses, as far too many sex crimes go unreported. Thus, policy makers need not only to encourage reporting of child-based sexual offenses via mandatory reporting laws, but also to embolden adult victims to report sex crimes perpetrated against them. Certainly rape shield laws and victim advocacy centers help victims who do choose to come forward, but the author maintains that more has to be done to effect larger sociocultural changes. For instance, the author mentions that institutional settings such as universities or the military must be more persistent with efforts to prevent and respond to sexual violence in order to send the message that sex crime will not be tolerated.

The author encourages greater investment in treatment methodologies, as previous research has indicated that although the public is skeptical of clinical intervention, sex offenders receiving treatment both during and post-incarceration have better outcomes than those who are not treated. Lastly, the author appropriately raises concerns about “net widening” with current sex offender laws, and encourages policy makers to restrict such policies to ensure that only the most dangerous and predatory sex offenders are ensnared.

Overall, the author is successful in providing a multidimensional, albeit easy to follow text applicable to a variety of readers.

Amber L. Morczek, PhD Candidate, Washington State University, Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology

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