Virtual Pedophilia

Sex Offender Profiling and U.S. Security Culture

Book Pages: 288 Illustrations: 32 illustrations Published: April 2020

Author: Gillian Harkins

American Studies, Cultural Studies > Surveillance Studies, Gender and Sexuality > Queer Theory

In Virtual Pedophilia Gillian Harkins traces how by the end of the twentieth century the pedophile as a social outcast evolved into its contemporary appearance as a virtually normal white male. The pedophile's alleged racial and gender normativity was treated as an exception to dominant racialized modes of criminal or diagnostic profiling. The pedophile was instead profiled as a virtual figure, a potential threat made visible only when information was transformed into predictive image. The virtual pedophile was everywhere and nowhere, slipping through day-to-day life undetected until people learned how to arm themselves with the right combination of visually predictive information. Drawing on television, movies, and documentaries such as Law and Order: SVU, To Catch a Predator, Mystic River, and Capturing the Friedmans, Harkins shows how diverse U.S. audiences have been conscripted and trained to be lay detectives who should always be on the lookout for the pedophile as virtual predator. In this way, the perceived threat of the pedophile legitimated increased surveillance and ramped-up legal strictures that expanded the security apparatus of the carceral state.


“The explosive subject of pedophilia too often generates social hysteria. In Virtual Pedophilia Gillian Harkins counters that response with an impressively researched multidisciplinary analysis of the emergence of the cultural figure of ‘the pedophile’ in the late twentieth century. But even more importantly, her lucid, pointed, and politically urgent provocations make this one of the most important books on sexual politics published in the past twenty years.” — Lisa Duggan, author of Mean Girl: Ayn Rand and the Culture of Greed

“It takes a century to not catch a predator: to birth him as a white man we can never net. Why can't we catch him? We can't see him. He's a white needle in a very white haystack. With statistics pooling, information flooding, he more eludes. He becomes ‘virtual,’ which bears devastating racial effects for communities of color. Expect this original, astonishing weave in Gillian Harkins' arresting new book. Tying together racial critique, feminist and sexuality studies, and legal discourse, Harkins proffers razor-sharp claims that challenge several fields—even queer theory. At every turn in this gripping read, I feel the author's crackling intelligence.” — Kathryn Bond Stockton, author of The Queer Child, or Growing Sideways in the Twentieth Century


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Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Gillian Harkins is Associate Professor of English at the University of Washington and author of Everybody's Family Romance: Reading Incest in Neoliberal America.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  vii
Introduction. Virtual Pedophilia  1
1. Monstrous Sexuality and Vile Sovereignty  29
2. Profiling Virtuality and Pedophilic Data  62
3. Informational Image and Procedural Tone  95
4. Capturing the Past and the Vitality of Crime  128
5. Capturing the Future and the Sexuality of Risk  161
Conclusion. Exceptional Pedophilia and the Everyday Case  194
Notes  209
References  229
Index  263
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing
Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-1-4780-0811-8 / Cloth ISBN: 978-1-4780-0683-1