Language in the Dialogue of Justice: Framing and Analysis of Recent Sex Offender Legislative Debates in Parliament

Mrs Natalie Goodwin1

1Bond University, Robina, Australia

As a diverse class of criminal, sex offenders have emerged as a genre of offender that the public requires particular protection from, resulting in a raft of legislative responses in the last few years. Within this context, fear and disgust have become intrinsic in legitimizing the measures created to keep community safe. However, the recent legislative responses, while they appear to be effective and might appease community concern, satisfy the elements of crime control theatre. Crime control theatre describes lawful legal actions like legislation that has the appearance of attending to crime issues and the impression of action, however, the results merely placate the public and can be ineffectual. The ubiquitous disgust for most individuals who sexually offend against children can produce legislative responses that serve the function of crime control theatre. This paper investigates the role of crime control theatre in the context of parliamentary debates concerning the legislation of child sex offences. An analysis of the legislative discourse of parliamentary members in both federal parliament and at a state level was undertaken. Publicly available registers in Western Australia as well as mandatory sentencing and the ban on overseas travel and the rescinding of passports in federal parliament were all analysed. This study used QSR NVIVO 12 with the main themes in the discussions coded and presented through word trees, maps, and models. Many of the justifications for the legislation are statistically unsupported, essentialise the offender, contain emblematic outliers, and isolated serious cases. Results suggest that the constellation of emotive language is a considerable force impelling the legislation which results in laws that are offered to the public as a defense against sex offenders. Unfortunately, many legislative responses do not achieve all their intended purposes, and while many of these responses might be intuitively appealing to the community, they are inherently problematic and inconsistent with empirical research.


Bio to come


Dec 09 2021