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From Pervert to Predator: Law, Medicine, Media, and the Construction of Contemporary Sexual Deviance

  • Author(s): DiBennardo, Rebecca Ann
  • Advisor(s): Saguy, Abigail
  • et al.
Abstract

This Dissertation examines how cultural and legal interactions shift the meaning and implications of “predatory” sexual behavior. Specifically, it explores how lawmaking processes, media coverage, and therapeutic jurisprudence have shifted the way that sexually predatory behavior is categorized and defined in California’s 1996 Sexually Violent Predator (SVP) Act. Drawing on fieldwork; interviews with experts working in law, medicine, politics, and advocacy; and legal and media content analysis, I develop three substantive chapters exploring different institutions’ impact on this law. Chapter Two of the dissertation introduces the SVP Act and examines changes to the law made via Proposition 83, a 2006 voter-initiated statute. Drawing on comparative analysis of legislative history, text, and debates, this chapter demonstrates how the Proposition system allowed for the incorporation of rhetoric that the legislative system did not, justifying different legal penalties for sexual predators at each point in time. Chapter Three uses content analysis of 323 Los Angeles Times articles about sexual predators over the span of 25 years to examine shifting representations of sexual predator victims, crimes, and offenders. Chapter Four examines how interactions between legal and medical actors and systems transform SVP treatment into punishment. Taken together, these chapters illustrate how different aspects of law, medicine, and popular opinion interact to construct sexual predators as increasingly monstrous, and provide a framework to begin to understand the impact and implications of this construction for both sex offenders and victims.

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