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date: 26 May 2020

(p. vii) Preface: Confronting and Challenging the Issues

(p. vii) Preface

Confronting and Challenging the Issues

The Oxford Handbook of Sex Offences and Sex Offenders is intended to serve as the most authoritative and scholarly source on research in this area in the United States and across the Western world. There has been a significant increase in the focus on sex offending in recent years. This has occurred in both the academic and the public spheres. The development of the ‘sex crime’ as a sub-discipline has occurred in several areas, notably psychology and sociology, with an overarching coherence in the discipline of criminology. The sub-discipline has developed rapidly over the past few decades, partly due to the permanence of the subject in the public imagination, but also due to the expansion of research and commentary at a multidisciplinary level.

In attempting to understand sexual offending, one needs to recognize two different discourses that currently operate in relation to sex crime. At the public level there is an explicit focus on regulation and control. Sex offenders have become the beasts in our midst. Once the beast analogy is seized, then—in control terms—beasts need to be separated from the herd, and hence there has been an exclusionary tendency—something akin to criminal apartheid for those who have committed sexual offences. In short, while there are variations, many countries have tried to confront the considerable societal concern about the phenomenon of sexual offending by regulation and control. The present debate at the public level—which mainly interests sociologists and lawyers—needs to be examined, confronted, and challenged.

Meanwhile, there has been a less public but equally fervent discourse centred on the importance of the assessment and treatment of sexual offenders. The discourse of assessment and treatment has operated at a more subterranean level, for it is often seen—perhaps largely by politicians—as something that is less enthusiastically embraced by members of the public. This may or may not be true, for sometimes the public is less punitive than politicians believe. The debate about assessment and treatment has largely interested psychologists and clinicians. In the final analysis, of course, the public discourse of regulation and control should not be totally separate from the more private discourse of treatment and assessment; connections need to be made. Indeed, the public may appreciate the futility and impossibility of addressing the issue of sex offending simply by regulation and control, whilst clinicians perhaps need to appreciate the wider societal context in which they are operating.

This Handbook—perhaps uniquely—presents these two different discourses but also goes further. The mainstream needs to be fully represented, but the mainstream also (p. viii) needs to be challenged and developed. The ambiguous boundaries of sexual activity need to be addressed both in theoretical and practical terms. How should the law deal with matters that we term ‘transgressions’, and what are the practical implications?

The potential literature for this project was huge. However, much of it exists in a variety of disciplinary journals and books. We were of the opinion that this range of material needed to be brought together in a fresh and lucid way within a single overall volume that would comprise the most authoritative set of writings on the issues relating to sex offending. The essays are written by leading figures in the research area of sex offending. The book is wide-ranging and includes scholars from various perspectives and from different countries. The Handbook has specifically included scholars from outside the discipline of criminology in order to expose the reader to the vast range of dynamics under this umbrella topic. Hence, the Handbook moves from theoretical explanations to a dissection of who the offenders are, who the victims are, and how offenders are treated and managed; it then proceeds onward, using a sociological lens to examine the social and cultural contexts in which crimes and sexual activities take place. We have encouraged the authors not to give a complete literature review of the topic in hand but rather to tease out the key debates, challenges, and controversies that are pertinent today. These essays can of course be read as standalone pieces for a comprehensive and detailed walk through that topic, but for those wanting a complete introductory journey through the sub-discipline, the 30 essays will provide immense detail and an enriching experience of the state of the discipline in the 21st century.

The Handbook is divided into seven parts, each corresponding to a major theme that is now shaping how sex offences are interrogated. In part I, Understanding Sex Crime, four essays provide crucial background material that both the novice and experienced reader will appreciate. These essays confront definitional, theoretical, methodological, and historical issues with a specific focus on defining what sex crime actually is.

In part II, types of sex crimes are considered. Whilst there are many different types, we were keen to cover the most relevant and significant. The first two essays here focus on the most serious type of sex offending—sexual homicide and rape. Following this there is a specific focus on child sexual abuse, the relevance of drugs and alcohol to sexual offending, and the specific issue of commercial child sexual exploitation.

In part III, while it is sometimes difficult to separate analyses of offences and offenders, this part contains five essays that essentially focus on offenders and their victims. The first essay in this part looks at the premise of the victim and the offender and how these categories often overlap. The next two essays consider the more unusual variants of juvenile sex offenders and female sex offenders. The next essay in the part considers the importance of developmental and life-course issues on the criminal careers of sex offenders. Criminology has traditionally neglected a focus on victims, so an overview is provided in the victimization and revictimization essay.

Part IV is dedicated to the regulation and control of sex offenders and how it has increasingly become identified as important. Here four essays focus on the formal regulation and control of sexual behaviour. The law in general, policing, the courts in action, and punishment all need to be considered. There is no separate historical chapter, but (p. ix) each chapter includes, where appropriate, the historical context as well as the developments of laws, policy, or practice. Similarly, while there are no separate chapters specifically focusing on policy and prevention, these topics will be addressed in the relevant chapters.

Part V takes a broader view on how sex offences are managed in the community. As well as the work of the formal social control agencies that are essentially involved in the detection and the punishment of sex offenders, there are many others, both at the formal and informal levels, involved in the management of and intervention in sex crime. These may complement or be separate from the work of agencies discussed elsewhere in the Handbook. Primarily these activities are involved in assessing and treating the offender. In this part we start out with a review of risk assessment and how this is a crucial part of managing sex offenders. We then move on to explore the range of treatments commonly used with this category of offender. Rather than ‘punishing’, they can be identified as ‘helping’ or ‘caring for’ the offender. The importance of informal social control, in terms of the family and other forms of support, is often neglected but is given prominence here in a separate chapter. Similarly, the needs of victims, often overlooked, are similarly considered, through a restorative justice approach.

Part VI expands the discussion on sex crime beyond the context of the criminal justice system. Sex crime does not take place in a social vacuum, and the social and cultural aspects of crime may be crucial. Four essays in this part outline key aspects in contemporary society necessary for understanding sex offences. The first essay starts by looking at public perceptions and public opinions and how these have begun to occupy a more prominent role than previously. The second essay emphasizes the importance of the media—for instance, in generating moral panics about a crime. Fictional representations of sex crime also need to be considered, as they can reflect and/or create stereotypes about sex crime and sex offenders. Furthermore, elements of the media have changed over the past few decades, and the rise of social media presents new and complex issues regarding sex offences, which make such moral panics more likely.

Finally, in part VII, the authors explore sexual activity at the boundaries of the law—a crime in some jurisdictions but not others. This becomes an issue as one recognizes sex crime as a global phenomenon. There can also be strident debates about the status of some sexual activity within a particular society: some argue that certain sexual activity should be criminalized, whilst others are more reluctant. There is a contemporary ring to many of these debates as the Internet now plays a major role, but are the issues really much different from historical dilemmas in this area? The public/private divide, for instance, has always been relevant in relation to sexual behaviour, but are the boundaries now changing? The first essay in this part pulls out important definitional, theoretical, and historical issues that need to be confronted in trying to understand activity that seems traditionally to have been less mainstream but is now gaining increasing attention. In the particular case of prostitution, the victim and offender debates are fervent, and the discourses around sex as work engage critically with the ideas of prostitution as a criminalized activity. The third essay moves into the hotly debated area of pornography, which sits at the borders of sexual freedom and censorship, private pleasures and (p. x) state control. The final essay in this part deals with the cloudy subject of human trafficking, excavating the complexities of migration, prostitution, and sex work within a global context.

An enormous project like this has been possible only because of the care and attention paid by the contributors. The assistance and encouragement from the series editor, Professor Michael Tonry, and that of James Cook and colleagues at Oxford University Press has meant that the momentum of the project has been kept on track. It is with the humblest gratitude that I pay tribute to Professor Keith Soothill, who envisaged this project back in 2013, drawing on over 40 years of his experience and networks to craft a fine proposal that was commissioned in 2014. Keith was the driving force behind this project, as he was behind hundreds of others, but sadly never saw the project come to fruition as he passed away suddenly in February 2014. This project was Keith’s idea and bore the hallmark of his efficiency and vision. It is one of his final legacies to the discipline of criminology for which he dedicated his career. I thank him for mentoring me to this stage in my career and for throwing down the gauntlet of this volume, which I know he would be most proud of.

Teela Sanders and Keith Soothill (1941–2014)