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Northwestern University Law Review

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This Article examines the social and legal developments that fueled the origins and recurring problems of sex offender laws. Part I of this Article discusses the primary precursors of the sexual psychopath statutes that encouraged the public's and politicians' acceptance of the concept of sexual psychopathy: the increasing sexualization of American society, changes in gender roles and relations, the valuation of children and the family unit, and the influx of psychiatry. Part II describes how the diagnosis of sexual psychopathy slowly developed as a result of the criminal justice system's growing tendency to explain criminal behavior in psychoanalytic terms. Part III examines three of the primary influences that scholars have pinpointed concerning how and why sexual psychopath statutes were enacted between 1937-1957--the media, citizens' groups, and law enforcement agencies. Part IV discusses the author's study of the relationships among newspaper reports, crime rates, and sexual psychopath legislation. Part V analyzes a number of the other perceived influences behind the sexual psychopath laws. Part VI notes that despite the increased funding of psychiatric studies of sex offenders and specialized facilities to treat them from 1950 to 1970, there was a dearth of treatment options available.