International Journal of Law and Psychiatry: John Douard; April 13, 2006
In seventeen states, persons convicted of one or more sexually violent offenses may be involuntarily civilly committed at the end of their criminal terms if they suffer from a mental disorder that renders them likely to reoffend sexually. These statutes place the burden on states to show that the sex offender meets the United States Constitutional standard of dangerousness.
The key to proving dangerousness is proof of a mental disorder. However, the United States Supreme Court recently found that the offender need not be mentally ill. He need only “suffer” from “mental abnormality” or “personality disorder” that affects his cognitive, emotional or volitional capacities such that he is highly likely to sexually reoffend.
These statutes are expressions of disgust: a fear of contamination by persons who engage in sexual conduct that forces us to confront our dark impulses. We do not merely hate the sin; we hate the sinner, and we want the sinner to be removed from our presence. Moreover, the emotions these statutes express are the source of widespread moral panic not warranted by data about recidivism risk. Laws that express disgust are likely to result in the unjust treatment of sex offenders.
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