The amount of venom that will be poured down upon anyone convicted of child molestation crimes in western society is quite astonishing. It seems that that out of all the terrible or repugnant crimes that one could possibly commit, the crime of child abuse will by far provoke the most severe and violent response from morally upstanding, good natured citizens. This is, of course, not a huge surprise for several obvious reasons: the brutalization of a young, innocent and defenceless child will always have the capacity to shock people. This is undeniable. But the fact that it can occur in even the most seemingly benign places, such as the religious community, often comes a as a secondary but equally devastating blow to members of the public.
But why is this response in people so significantly larger than the emotional response provoked by, say, a murder, or simply a rape of a young woman? What is it about children being abused that, as a human race, freaks us out so much and rallies people to bay for the perpetrators’ blood?Intriguingly, in Ancient Greece, the attitude to such atrocities was quite different – in fact, sexual activity with young boys was actually encouraged amongst scholars. The idea behind it all was ultimately to promote a union between innocent and wisdom, ‘the beauty and meditation between old and young.’ The morally squeamish consumers of the twentieth first century will of course find this somewhat nauseating, but it illustrates the fact that morality, and by proxy the public opinion of child abuse has changed significantly over time.
Currently, the hatred against child abusers has never been so strong. Killers such as Ian Huntley, who murdered two young girls in Soham and the infamous toddler-killer John Venables are faced with numerous death threats. They are reviled and disgusted not only by the public but also victimized and brutalized by fellow prisoners: Huntley, for example, had his throat slashed in March 2010, and this was by no means an isolated incident. On a recent episode of the British political programme Question Time, the audience quite literally screamed for Venables’ blood, and numerous audience members stipulated quite clearly that they would not balk at hanging from a tree. There are even Facebook groups with thousands upon thousands of members, with titles such as ‘All Paedophiles must be castrated/shot/tortured/immolated’. Human rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith put it remarkably well, when he said at a recent conference: ‘Even Guardian readers want to lynch paedophiles.’ Yes, we all love to hate child abusers.
No one can deny that the abuse of an innocent child, or, perhaps more importantly, the element of non-consensual sex entailed in child abuse, is something that in all cases merits a lengthy prison sentence. Indeed, many child killers are such a danger to society that they probably should be locked up indefinitely, the only key to their cell tossed unashamedly into a dark and murky well. However this does not justify the intensely violent passion that news of child abuse, such as that within the Catholic Church, has provoked. Conventional morality dictates to the West that violence is something of a vicious circle, and therefore any violence directed towards criminals, be it direct, or simply through an emotionally charged article in a tabloid, can only have an aggravating impact upon society.