Author: The Williams Institute
Published: Friday 23rd October 2020 - Updated: Sunday 29th November 2020
Summary: Black men and men with male victims are more likely to be committed.
There are more than 6,300 sex offenders detained in state and federal civil commitment programs in the United States, according to a new study by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law.
Results from states for which data were obtained show disparities in how the laws are applied. Black sex offenders were twice as likely as White sex offenders to be civilly committed. In addition, men with male victims were 2 to 3 times more likely to be civilly committed than men with only female victims.
Twenty states, the federal government, and the District of Columbia have laws that allow for the indefinite detention of sex offenders designated as a "Sexually Violent Person" or "Sexually Violent Predator" (SVP) beyond the term of their incarceration. To confine a person under an SVP law, the defendant must have been charged with a sexual offense, have a "mental disorder" or "abnormality," and be likely to commit sexually violent acts in the future.
"Inherent biases lead to disparities in civil commitments between sexual minority and heterosexual men. Overly broad terms like "mental disorder" and "abnormality" have no medical meaning, and they could be used to characterize sexual minority people as mentally ill when they engage in a sexual practice perceived to be deviant," said study author Ilan H. Meyer, Distinguished Scholar of Public Policy at the Williams Institute. "In addition, men with a same-sex victim are judged as more violent on the standard assessment tool used to determine SVP."
"These findings reveal that gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men face much higher rates of civil commitment than their heterosexual counterparts. This suggests that state authorities deem queer men to be more violent more dangerous or mentally ill, and more deserving of commitment under these laws," said lead author Trevor Hoppe, assistant professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. "It is also vital that state programs consider biases that may contribute to higher rates of commitment that we observed among Black and sexual minority men."
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