Wednesday, 6 August 2008

On paedophiles and the "lynch-mob" mentality

Today, the Madeleine McCann abduction case was thrust into the spotlight once more with the revelation that Maddie was apparently spotted in Holland, three days after she was taken, with a French-speaking woman. According to the Daily Mirror, "shop assistant Ana Stam, 41, said the little girl told her: "My name is Maddy." Then she said of the woman with her: "She is not my mummy, she took me from my holiday.""

This will no doubt raise hopes that the child, and those who took her, can be found and set the nation talking. Every single time there is a high-profile case of child abduction, and especially murder, the public's emotions run high. This is understandable. Every parent in the country has the exact same fear of this happening to their own kids, and there are few people who cannot sympathise with the horror and trauma suffered by those involved.

However, it can go too far. The tabloid media, with relative ease, is able to very quickly drum up an atmosphere of hysteria and fury that has people baying for blood. Talk of bringing back the death penalty do the rounds in The Sun, The News of the World, and their ilk, and the threat of vigilatism and angry mobs is so great that suspects in such cases have to have the tightest of security. However, this attitude is unequivocally wrong and needs to be resisted. It has become so absurd that, a few years back, a doctor was attacked by a mob who couldn't differentiate between a paediatrician and a paedophile.

Let me be in no doubt about this: paedophiles and those who harm children absolutely should not be allowed anywhere near kids. However, there are various schools of thought on whether or not that means prison. Some psychologists believe it is a mental disorder which requires treatment in isolated facilities, whilst others believe that they are capable of engaging in normal community interaction as long as they're not exposed to kids. Most experts agree that their urges can be controlled and quelled if not removed altogether.

The reason I bring this up isn't to make any apologies for them - far from it, I believe abuse of children to be the most horrendous of crimes and even I get the urge to stamp on their balls until they explode. However, treating them far more humanely than they treat their victims might be more pragmatic by way of prevention.

The current reaction towards paedophiles in the media and even in the justice system is a violent one verging upon vigilatism, which has the detrimental effect of driving most of them underground. This makes them harder to catch and, ironically, puts children in greater danger. However, if we were to adopt a more humane approach, then it could prove easier to isolate child abusers before they commit crimes.

Although there are those who are simply sociopaths with no empathy whatsoever towards human suffering and a sadistic delight in causing pain, the majority of paedophiles are actually highly disturbed individuals - often as a result of suffering such abuse themselves - whose urges fester in them for a long time before they act upon them. If we put a stop to the current tactics that make them think that all they will receive from society is vilification and harsh punishment, then we could make appeals and urge those with such desires to come forward and seek help before they offend.

As those who have been victims themselves - Fred and Rose West's son is a good example - know the horrors of such abuse, then there will be a conflict within them between their urges and the knowledge and self-hatred for how it affects people which will make them more likely to give themselves up if such an appeal is made. If we do this, as well as providing greater long-term help for victims of abuse as soon as they are saved to stop them becoming abusers themselves, and redoubling efforts to catch those who are unrepentant sociopaths, then I think there will be a much greater possibility of saving more children from abuse and significantly reducing instances of paedophilia.

We just have to control our urge to kick the fuckers to death...