The killing of Gordon Morrice is an extreme example of a wider attitude in society: paedophiles are fair game for mob justice. Not all paedophiles will experience violence leading to brain damage and death – as Morrice suffered – but without doubt they are treated as the modern-day lepers of society. Like the lepers of old, they are typically banished from the community, ostracised, and treated with fearful suspicion. And as with the lepers, many people would prefer that they wore bells announcing their arrival, and shouted ahead of themselves, “Unclean, unclean!”
In one sense this is understandable. Paedophile crimes are particularly repugnant, not just because we recoil from the thought, but because of their seriousness. Not only are paedophile acts an abuse of power, but they are also a violation of the body, our most intimate space; and, still worse, they are perpetrated against children, who are least able to defend themselves, and who may not have developed the resources to cope with such an ordeal. Let’s be clear: paedophile crimes do not deserve excuses.
But that said, we also need to examine another ugly fact: there are people in our society who think that suspected paedophiles deserve mob justice. Somehow the figure of the ‘peedo’ has become the acceptable whipping boy of the masses.
This is short-sighted, for two reasons. For one, it means that people with paedophile tendencies are driven underground, into secrecy and shame – making their condition hard to address, and encouraging a secretive life. While it has become almost fashionable to admit to struggling with a sex-addiction, no equivalent social space exists for working through such deviant feelings. Paedophiles who act on their desires and commit crimes may be only the tip of an iceberg; conservative estimates suggest that around three percent of the population have paedophile desires. Where do the submerged majority go for help?
Secondly, mob-justice says more about the mob than it does about justice. In previous eras we drowned witches, expelled Jews, imprisoned homosexuals. Our generation’s particular nervousness towards the paedophile may be more a product of a media-saturated culture than any real increased risk of abuse. In ancient Greece, the education of upper-class boys was based upon allowing a homoerotic relationship to flourish between the boy and his teacher; the love and loyalty produced was what inspired the boy to learn. So it was, that the transmission of culture depended upon this ‘pederastic’ relationship – which from our point of view, looks very much like paedophilia. In the perspective of history, it emerges that we are as culturally-conditioned as they were.
No one is arguing for a return to those days, except perhaps for some Danish extremists. And which parent would not feel a little jumpy knowing that a suspected paedophile lived next door? Nevertheless, today’s mob attitudes towards paedophiles need to be seen as part of the problem, and certainly not as a solution to it. Justice must hang on the evidence heard in court, not on the hunches of a paranoid neighbourhood.
This is particularly important in the case of Gordon Morrice – he was simply a man with four children of his own, who asked to join in with a child’s game: police found no evidence of paedophilia.