Disney’s Zootopia has Parallels to Sex Abuse Prevention

I Promise I Did Not Go Crazy

Right, so I have a case to make here… and I promise I have not done anything to impair my mental faculties, except get sick with a cold. And what do you do when your favorite streaming service decides to quit? You watch a movie you have not seen in awhile. Mine happened to be Zootopia, which I saw with my boyfriend around a year ago. When I observed that it seemed to be talking about sex offenders, he thought I was crazy. Seeing it again, though, I think I have a point. While I doubt Disney intended their movie to tackle a complex issue like sex offenders, I think it can help.

Brief Synopsis (spoiler alert)

If you are not familiar with Zootopia, it is a Disney movie about a female rabbit, Judy Hopps… who wants to be a police officer. And instead of supportive parents, she has two worrywart carrot farmers who want her to give up on her dreams… and she refuses to. The film pits “prey animals” (like rabbits) against “predator animals” (like cheetahs, otters, lions… you get the idea). Just because predators are civilized and no longer eat prey animals does not mean the old grudges have died out, which Judy discovers.

She becomes a police officer in the city of (you guessed it) Zootopia, where she starts her first beat… writing tickets. There are lots of hints to the challenges a female cop might face. Meanwhile, there is trouble afoot: 14 mammals have disappeared without a trace, and Judy decides to crack the case. She thinks she cracks it when she discovers the 14 mammals being imprisoned in a lab by the mayor (a lion), and in a news conference, she makes predators these scary animals who might snap and attack at any moment (in the film, predators are outnumbered by “prey” by a 10:1 ratio, ironically enough).

The Ending Dialogue Where The Culprit Confesses

Well, it turns out things were not that simple. A flower was making the predators go savage, not their biology or DNA, and Judy discovers the real culprit. At the end of the movie, an interesting dialogue takes place between the culprit and Judy, and the culprit says…

“Think of it. 90% of the population united against a common enemy. We’ll be unstoppable!”

But it does not stop there. No, the dialogue continues when Judy asks,

“So that’s it? Prey fears predators and you stay in power?”

Culprit: “Yeah, pretty much.”

Judy: “It won’t work!”

Culprit: “Fear always works! And I’ll dart every predator in Zootopia to keep it that way.”

Does this sound familiar at all? Maybe politicians and the media have not confessed to scaring us into thinking that all sex offenders are dangerous (when they are not)… but I think the reality is there, intended or not. I think for the full effect, you should watch the video:


The Tie-In

Anyone familiar with sex offender issues or sexual abuse prevention have already seen the glaring tie-in. We are terrified of the “predators,” the sex offenders, who seemingly threaten all of the “prey,” or the women and children. And like the culprit of the attacks on predators, we will do anything to keep them down because hey, fear always works.

Well, it turns out the reality is not that simple. You see, over 90% of sex crime is not perpetrated by sex offenders who are on a registry (that ironic part I was talking about before). They are perpetrated by people who, seemingly out of the blue, “turn savage” and commit a sexual offense. Most perpetrators have no criminal record, and most of them are humans who found themselves in a situation where there is a lot of stress in their lives… and a child or a woman was a convenient outlet for that stress, and they had no support or appropriate coping mechanisms to deal with it.

The Reality About Sex Offenders

The reality is, we know who perpetrates sex crimes: First-time offenders. We know from research that there are a wide variety of mental health motivations, that are typically summed up with someone not getting a mental health need met and turning to sex in order to meet that need. The reality is… sex offenders are human beings that made a mistake, and are not apt to repeat it. We know that today, from the plethora of research that has been done. We knew that two decades ago when we started passing legislation to piggy-back off the fear that started with several high-profile sex crime cases.

The experts knew that these policies would not work before they were implemented, because of the simple fact that most sex offenses are not committed by those with a prior history of sexual offenses. But their voices were drowned out by the well-meaning but fear-prone public who were manipulated by the news, by politicians, and the high-profile nature of several cases. These few, rare cases seemed to us to be the norm. But they are not.

Closing Thoughts

One of the closing speeches by Judy states,

“When I was a kid, I thought Zootopia was this perfect place, where everyone got along and anyone could be anything. Turns out, real life is a little bit more complicated than a slogan on a bumper sticker. We all have limitations, we all make mistakes, which means — hey, glass half full! — we all have a lot in common. And the more we try to understand one another, the more exceptional each of us will be.”

Like Judy’s revelation, we are finding out the hard way that the true nature of sex crime is a little bit more complicated than shooting sex offenders, registering them, or otherwise endlessly punishing them with whatever scheme we can come up with. The only way to counter that is to humanize sex offenders with stories that put us in the uncomfortable place of understanding why a sex offender made the mistake in the first place, so we can prevent these mistakes in the future. The only way to counter the plot to instill fear of sex offenders into our communities is to understand, empathize, and relate to these people who are human beings to.

When we see that sex offenders are human beings who make mistakes, and we see why those mistakes were made, we will be better at ending the epidemic of child sexual abuse, because we will form policies that address the reality of how and why sex crimes happen.

Maybe Shakira is right in the theme song for the movie. Maybe we need to not give up, not give in, and try everything to solve the issue of sex crimes:


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