The BBC reports today that a paedophile has been battered to death in his home here in the UK. Not in some scary country where the rule of law doesn’t exist, but right here in this land in 2003. What’s the moral position there, do you think?
Obviously, paedophilia is inexcusable but is murder an appropriate response? The police have expressed some concern that they won’t get community support in finding and convicting whoever is responsible for his death and apparently he had stopped replacing his broken windows as his house was under attack so much. Exactly what is going on there? The demonisation of paedophiles makes me somewhat uneasy and I’m not sure why. I think, in my mind, I find it very hard to accept that paedophiles exist – it is so far outside my understanding. I don’t think I’m alone in this incomprehension, but I think some people react to it differently (I just have to keep reminding myself that it is real and I just don’t understand). Some people, I believe, see the appropriate response to that confusion to be to attack and demonise people. Somehow the paedophile’s crime absolves people of everyday decent behaviour – shouting abuse, breaking windows and, it seems, murder, is all ok. This, to me, is scary as it means people can justify stepping outside the normal bounds of our society. So what determines when you can step outside the boundaries? To me, it’s cultural norms and confusion about how to respond to difference which determine who no longer warrants inclusion in our society. In the past many groups have been on the receiving end of this: ethnic minorities, lesbians and gay men, Jews… Obviously, paedophilia is not on a par with these activities, but the response to them has been similar.
So, maybe we can accept this fairly academic argument but perhaps we think a paedophile deserves nothing less than to be excluded from society as his actions are so obviously so wrong. But is paedophilia the worst crime in our society today? If not, other criminals can expect the same response. Think for a moment why you might consider it more repulsive (and repulsive is the word to use in this context – an emotional response as much as an intellectual one) than other crimes. Compare it with, for example, rape, murder, non-sexual child abuse, abuse of the elderly and abuse of disabled people. I’m not saying it isn’t worse, I’m just saying think for a moment what might make it so and why we seem to ‘allow’ some crimes more than others.
Interestingly, the community this man lived in seems to have had a similar level of conflict – flowers have been left at his door.