William & Mary Journal of Race, Gender, and Social Justice


This note examines the constitutional and social implications of the civil commitment of sexually violent predators in the United States. These commitments are implemented on sexual offenders deemed too dangerous to be placed back into society after serving prison sentences and have been gaining popularity across the United States. Currently, these commitments are considered constitutional in limited circumstances by the Supreme Court, but while these commitments are meant for only the most dangerous and least controllable individuals, the public reaction to sexual offenses increases the possibility these commitments will be misused. As a part of examining this commitment process, this note analyzes the short story, The Yellow Wallpaper, a first hand fictive account of a woman undergoing the rest cure, an eighteenth century medically accepted treatment for women suffering a variety of mental ailments, which isolated women and left them to sleep, eat, and do little else.

Today, women look back on this "cure" and wonder how it could have ever been considered an appropriate medical treatment. This story of one woman's confinement to a room as a part of a medically accepted treatment offers a different angle on the situation men face today under changing sexual offender laws and medically accepted treatment programs. By comparing this treatment of women submitted to the rest cure both in The Yellow Wallpaper and in Victorian society to the current constitutional treatment of men submitted to commitment for sexually violent offenses, this note hopes to show how medically accepted treatment regimes with little or no individual treatment are socially and morally dangerous. In the end, there are better alternatives to commitment of sexual offenders that will keep society safe, provide individualized treatment, and uphold constitutional liberties so valued by our society. Perhaps one day, a hundred years from now, society will also look back on the commitment of sexually violent predators as medically inappropriate and wonder how it ever became the socially instituted procedure.