The Role of Policy in Preventing Sexual Violence

Publication Date


Document Type

Book Chapter


The intent of this essay is to contrast the policy emphasis of American lawmakers with that of their Canadian and European counterparts on what role law should play in dealing with non-consensual sex. One growing trend in crime policy has been governments' desire to prevent sex offences. The first section of this essay provides a brief discussion of the harms and prevalence of sexual victimization, particularly child sexual abuse (CSA). The second section summarizes key policy developments in the United States in the latter part of the 20th century and the early part of the 21st century. Most notably, it is critical to understand how the media can frame our public safety concerns about sexual violence and offending. Transitioning to the primary focus of this essay, the third and fourth sections discuss an evolution in sexual violence policy. As exemplified by laws governing civil commitment and Internet sex stings, the United States has chosen to codify sexual assault prevention. These statutes and policies are expanding governmental efforts to criminalize sexual behaviours before they result in physical harm to a victim. Centered to those laws are the erroneous assumptions that we can predict which sex offenders will inevitably reoffend, thus justifying their detention. The fifth section examines European and Canadian approaches to sex crime preventive detention. The sixth and final section distills the strengths and weakness of criminalizing sexual assault prevention on the tenet of perpetual dangerousness. With an eye toward expanding our debate about sexual violence, the role of law, and the difficulty in predicting offending, this essay seeks to challenge the practice of preventive detention in the name of public safety.

Original Citation

Wright, R. (2017). The Role of Policy in Preventing Sexual Violence. In T. Sanders (Ed.) The Oxford Handbook of Sex Offenses and Sex Offenders (pp. 289-309). Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press.

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