August 20, 2010

Blast from the past: "Sex offender myths"

Amidst all the hysteria over sex offending these days, stumbling across this list from 1955 gave me an eerie sense of deja vu. The author, a prominent sociologist, wrote his list of 11 "popular myths about the sex offender" during the zenith of the last sex panic, the Sexual Psychopath Era of the 1930s-1950s. Here are his myths*:

  1. That tens of thousands of homosexual sex offenders stalk the land.
  2. That the victims of sex attack are 'ruined for life.'
  3. That sex offenders are usually recidivists.
  4. That the minor sex offenders, if unchecked, progress to more serious types of crime.
  5. That it is possible to predict the danger of serious crimes by sexual deviance.
  6. That 'sex psychopathy' or sex deviation is a clinical entity.
  7. That these individuals are lustful and oversexed.
  8. That reasonably effective treatment methods to cure deviant sex offenders are known and employed.
  9. That the sex control laws passed recently are getting at the brutal and vicious sex criminal and should be adopted generally to wipe out sex crime.
  10. That civil adjudication of the sexual deviant in indeterminate commitment to a mental hospital is similar to our handling of the insane and therefore human liberties and due process are not involved.
  11. That the sex problem can be solved merely by passing a new law on it.
As a wise poet and philosopher wrote way back when, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Kind of depressing that many in the sex offender civil commitment industry seem oblivious to 20th century history, in which an almost identical approach was vigorously pursued, only to be abandoned as an abysmal failure.

*Paul W. Tappan was a prominent sociology professor at New York University, an attorney, and a consultant to the New Jersey Commission on the Habitual Sex Offender. He published widely on criminology and corrections topics during the 1940s-1960s. "Some myths about the sex offender" was published in the June 1955 issue of Federal Probation. Robert Sadoff, a Temple University psychiatrist, republished them in a 1966 article, "Psychiatric views of the Sexual Psychopath statutes."