Murdering paedophiles

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.

3 Replies to “Murdering paedophiles”

  1. I think it is very difficult to produce an ordered list of the gravity of a crime.
    Although I agree it is not for “The Mob” to dispense justice, that is getting back to the days of lynching! There is no doubt in my mind that crimes against a child rate very highly and sexual crimes against the child, must be somewhere near the very top.
    I think part of the problem is that convicted child molesters are released into the community and local parents are understandably concerned.

    Should we keep them locked up for ever, personally I think that is the only practicable route to go down, as much for their own safety as societies.!

    When I was young, I was in the “Boys Brigade”, for lads from 12 to 17, One of the leaders was “Uncle Bob”, a family friend and therefore a frequent visitor to our home.
    He was often left in our house to look after me when my parents went out.
    To cut to the quick, he was always ‘interfering’ with me, I didn’t say anything as he convinced me that no one would believe me and then I would be sent away.
    This went on for years, it was only when I was much older, that I found out he was doing this to lots of the kids I knew, girls and boys.

    I think that due to the fact that children can be coerced and frightened into complying with this, that when someone is convicted of this type of crime, they should lock them up and throw the key away, ( but then perhaps I am predudiced).
    I am sorry, but I feel no sympathy for the man who was killed!

  2. There is a mist of confusion here that needs dispelling. In the case of paedophilia people seem to have accepted that as well as a crime against children, paedophilia is an identity. When one says that some person “is a paedophile” it seems to be a more fundamental attribution than saying that someone “is a murderer”. So we don’t regard paedophilia as a particularly heinous crime – or not only that – but as a problematic identity. As a result we end up with the quandrry about what to do with paedophiles; people worry about releasing them into the community. Paedophile crimes are awful but not more awful than child murder – let’s be clear. So it’s not the vileness of the action that makes us confused. It’s that we – and as it happens the paedophiles – construe a crime, a moral culpability as an identity. The child molester does this for self justification and in an attempt to legitimise crime as identity. We do it in order to legitimise our impotence and relieve our horror: while we demonise a minority of child abusers the vast majority of abuse goes undiscovered behind closed doors in the privacy of family life.

  3. I hesitate to blame the media on this particular website, but I just read that 80% of all children who are murdered are killed by members of their families ( So why such an unbelievable media circus around the Soham case but not around what causes the death of the great majority of children? Is it because it is a lot easier to point the finger at a strange man than to look at what’s going on inside our very own families? Is it further proof that the media is forever leaning towards sensationalism at the expense of in-depth analysis of our society?

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