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Sexual Predator Laws: A Gothic Narrative
On February 7, 1989, Earl Kenneth Shriner was convicted of kidnapping, raping, mutilating, and attempting to murder a 7-year-old boy in Tacoma, Washington. Shriner had a 24-year history of sexual violence, and had recently been released from prison after expiration of a prison term for kidnapping and assault of two teenage girls. Shriner has been described as a “slightly retarded man with a bizarre physical appearance” (Petrunick 1994, 57). His physical appearance seemed to suggest an inner strangeness, a psychological otherness that seemed to explain his appalling conduct (Petrunick 1994). It somehow made sense that a man who looked like Shriner would commit sexually violent acts. Mental retardation and physical ugliness have often suggested sexual deviance in literature, as in William Faulkner’s mentally retarded character Benji in the Sound and the Fury, who was castrated after being accused of raping a young girl. Benji is emblematic of our anxieties about sexual innocence and mental disabilities (Tilley 1955).