Obscuring sexual crime: examining media representations of sexual violence in Megan’s law

Renee Marie Shelby*, Anthony Ryan Hatch

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations

Abstract

Sexual violence remains a pervasive and persistent social problem. In 1996, Congress enacted Megan’s Law, dictating mandatory community notification and potential civil commitment for those deemed by the State to be dangerous sexual offenders. In 2013, Megan’s Law continues to influence the treatment of sexual offenders under law and the social construction of a highly publicized, yet statistically rare, sexual crime – the rape and murder of a young female child by a depraved male stranger. This influence highlights the extent to which this personalized crime bill shapes the social construction of sexual violence in terms of sex and gender systems. This paper examines how sex and gender shape media discourses of the sexual offender and victim that are mobilized in the legislative debate on Megan’s Law. Drawing on theoretical ideas from cultural studies and feminist legal scholarship, we employ discourse analysis to analyze the legislative debate on Megan’s Law. We find that high-profile media images of sex offenders and victims are relied on to construct a singular image of sexual violence, whereby a child is victimized by an adult sexual predator. These images draw on traditional, conservative notions of gender and sexuality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)402-418
Number of pages17
JournalCriminal Justice Studies
Volume27
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 20 2014
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • discourse analysis
  • gender and sexuality
  • media
  • Megan’s law
  • sex crime legislation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Law

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