From Monstrous to Ghostly Imaginaries: The Spectral and Haunting Threat of Paroled Sex Offenders

Organised by UNSW Law

By Robert Werth, Senior Lecturer, Rice University, Texas

Abstract

This talk explores how the figure of the dangerous sex offender is understood and governed by parole personnel. It is widely observed that sex offenders are perceived as monsters beyond repair or redemption. This talk proposes that in addition to monstrosity, we can and should consider the ghostly and haunting characteristics of sex offending. While not effacing the role of monstrosity, I suggest that much of the power of sex offenders to incite affect and actions stems from their perceived spectrality. Specifically, I contend that sex offenders’ potential reoffending represents a spectral threat – an apparition-like absent presence – that troubles temporal, spatial and epistemological boundaries. Drawing from ethnographic fieldwork, this talk traces the ways in which the specter of sexual recidivism becomes an intolerable, haunting threat for parole personnel that legitimizes the extremely punitive and exclusionary ways in which they govern sex offenders.

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