In the 1990s and 2000s, federal lawmakers and legislators in twenty-two states enacted laws allowing for the indefinite detention of individuals convicted of certain sexual offenses, beyond their court-ordered prison sentence. Known as “sexually violent predator” (SVP) laws, these statutes allow for the indefinite detention of designated sexual offenders, perhaps for life, on the basis of having “mental abnormalities”—a pseudo-medical category invented by lawmakers. We know little about who is detained in these facilities. Citing medical privacy, most states refuse to release information about these programs or those they have detained. In this talk, I will report and consider demographic findings from a recent analysis of civil commitment facilities conducted by myself and colleagues at the Williams Institute at UCLA. We find that there are over 6000 men currently civilly committed for sex offenses in the United States. In almost every state analyzed, detainees are disproportionately Black. And, in the two states for which it was possible to consider detainee sexuality, we find that detainees are also disproportionately men who have sex with men. I consider these findings and explore next steps in this developing project.
Trevor Hoppe is assistant professor of sociology at UNC Greensboro. His book, Punishing Disease: HIV and the Criminalization of Sickness (UC Press 2018) was awarded the Distinguished Book Award from the ASA Section on Sexualities as well as the Edward H. Sutherland Outstanding Book Award from the SSSP Law and Society section. He is also the co-editor of two collections: The War on Sex (Duke 2018) and the forthcoming Unsafe Words: Queer Perspectives on Consent in the #MeToo Era (Rutgers). He currently resides in his hometown, Charlotte, NC, with his husband and cheerleader, Brad, and their cat, Nomi Malone.