I'm involved in a debate at the moment that has produced some pretty strong opinions on both sides. The death penalty is a contentious enough issue in itself but adding the question of paedophilia into the mix seems to fan the flames to heated hysteria. So I thought I'd explain my thoughts on the matter to you all.
The thing is that I don't believe in capital punishment at all. Death is not an axe to be wielded in the hands of arbitary earth based justice. Matters of life and death are best left to the Gods. I also think it is the one punishment we can't go back on if we get it wrong. And I believe very firmly that absolutely anybody can be rehabilitated and supported into a better life.
Paedophilia is the crime of the moment. Two thousand years ago it wasn't even a crime, possibly in the future it will cease to warrant its current hysteria. I'm still baffled by how wide the sex offenders list casts its net. Do we really think that some lusty sixteen year old lad having a quick bonk with his consenting fifteen year old girlfriend is in the same league as a thirty year old molesting a ten year old? We need to understand what paedophilia actually is and stop jumping on the bandwagon of indignation and fury at the mention of the word.
I consider myself pretty fortunate. I was born into a body with a good old normal sexual desire for other adults. This makes it very easy for me to find a socially acceptable partner. But how hard would it have been to have been born a paedophile, to have desires that the rest of the world shuns and hates you for, to be isolated within your own mind with no outlet for your frustrations. I don't think its any wonder that these people eventually crack. Society offers them nothing but self righteous condemnation. I'd be prepared to bet good money that if we offered a bit more support and a bit less moral outrage we would see the level of actual sex offences drop. And that's got to be good news for everybody.
I am assured by a fellow debater that paedophiles always reoffend and are incapable of being rehabilitated. Well that just isn't true. There are charities that work on integrating these people back into a normal life. And with support (and that's from people like you and me, people with no sexual interest at all in children but who care enough about humanity to break the isolation of these people and befriend them) they have a pretty good success rate of preventing reoffence.
Now I'm not saying we can get to the stage where we can remove the actual desires of a paedophile (possibly controversially I'm not even sure if I would approve of that kind of brain washing anyway) but what we can do is support them in not acting on those desires. I maintain there is nothing at all wrong in what goes on in the privacy of your own head, the danger to children only comes when these thoughts are acted on. So the focus needs to be on providing paedophiles with the education and support to prevent them from acting on what is to them a natural impulse. I believe this can be done, the support charities believe it can be done and I'd like you to prise your own minds open a crack and have some faith that these people can overcome their own base natures and live in the world without causing harm to others.
Your own head is your own business. And I think we have to be very very careful about making any kind of moral judgement on a person's thoughts. We're a whisker away from Orwell's 1984 thought crimes here. What a man thinks doesn't matter, our concern has to be with that he does. (Our legal system reflects this, to be convicted of a crime there needs to be evidence of an act, the actus reus and the intent, the mens rea. The intent or desire on its own is non culprable. I'd like to think our morality could run along similar principles.). And let's not forget that the vast majority of paedophiles never harm anyone, they keep their impulses under control and to themselves. I do hope nobody is advocating that we go out and execute these people as well on the basis that they “might” commit a crime...
So if we believe paedophiles can be rehabilitated we can't use protection of society as an excuse to execute them. Which begs the question of what we would have to gain with execution. I suppose supporters of social justice might see it as punishment. But death is not a punishment and should not be used for that purpose. Everybody is going to die and by using it as a penalty for crime we endow death with a fear it doesn't deserve. Death is just the next step on the journey.... (I've a terrible feeling I'm paraphrasing Professor Dumbledore here...)
One of the principles of judicial sentencing is deterrence, the idea that having a justice system with penalties deters other people from offending. Well make your minds up! Either paedophiles cannot help but act on their urges in which case the deterrence of capital punishment becomes pointless or they can choose not to act on their urges in which case it is worth rehabilitating them. You can't have it both ways!
You know what I think? Well I think people call for the death penalty for two reasons. Firstly there is the distaste for the crimes some paedophiles have committed. The vigilante brigade are unable to overcome their revulsion so come over all sanctimonious and start baying for blood. Not a very humane attitude (and those of you who are Christians, do you think Jesus would have agreed with you? He seemed like a pretty compassionate chap to me. I bet he would have been helping to support those paedophiles not clamouring for their execution...)
And the other reason? Well I think its fear. Its like the old witchcraft hysteria, its accuse rather than be accused. Its the whole you've got to be for or against mentality. And its bloody dangerous.
Its all also pretty cowardly. Some of you need to get off your soap boxes, stop treating paedophiles as monsters and start seeing them for what they are, - unfortunate people who were born with desires that nobody would ever choose to be born with, people on the margins of an increasingly judgemental society and who with help can become no more of a threat to children than you or I.
And a bit of compassion goes a long way.
Image taken from Facebook. Unable to credit as can't make out TM. Will credit if advised.
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