Over the last three decades, as American society has apparently accepted more open expression of different kinds of sexuality, it has also invented new ways and reasons to police sex. David Halperin, a historian and gender theorist at the University of Michigan, has called this “the war on sex.” In the introduction to a new essay collection with that title, which he co-edited, he describes some of the weapons in this war, including the sex-offender registry, which extends punishment indefinitely, and civil commitment, which amounts to preventive custody. In her contribution to the book, the lawyer and journalist Laura Mansnerus writes that about five thousand people are currently confined in twenty states, “involuntarily and indefinitely,” under so-called sexually violent predator acts, without a jail sentence or after having served jail time. “These men,” she writes, “are confined because of what they might do someday, exactly the kind of preventive detention that seems like an obvious constitutional problem.
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