Medico-Legal Collaboration Regarding the Sex Offender: Othering and Resistence

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Mary Lay Schuster
Brian N. Larson
Amy D Propen


We examined medico-legal collaboration regarding dangerous sex offenders where state legislators have adopted statutes that determine the criteria for commitment to and discharge from civil commitment programs. The application of these statutes relies on medical diagnoses of pathologies such as paraphilia, anti-social personality disorder, and pedophilia along with prognoses for cure or recidivism. In our study, we examined court opinions from commitment hearings and observed a trial in federal court on the constitutionality of these commitments. We found that one result of this medico-legal collaboration is the marginalization or othering of sex offenders by essentializing, dividing, shaming, and impeaching them. We also found that this group attempted to resist othering by rhetorical strategies such as providing evidence of change in character, distinction within the othered group, and proof of internal controls over unacceptable impulses. Finally, we discovered that such othering relies heavily on medical expertise, even though some medical practitioners may disagree with, or be hesitant in, their roles in this medico-legal collaboration.

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