As part of the British government’s scheme to tackle sex offenders, Home Secretary John Reid is introducing a raft of new measures for the further protection of children from known paedophiles. Dubbed “Sarah’s Law”, after Sarah Payne who was murdered in 2000 by a repeat offender. Fears that the law would provide powers akin to those in the United States guaranteed by “Megan’s Law”, which had the potential to drive sex offenders underground, have been assuaged by the limited scope of its provisions. The new measures include a voluntary drug treatment, often cited as ‘chemical sterilisation’ in the media, as well as allowing parents to register their concern with the police should anyone be in a position to have unsupervised access to their children.
Yet these measures principally concern the prospect of repeat offences. The cases which sparked such legislation being called for in the first place so incensed the public on account of their being committed by known paedophiles. These measures, however, do not offer much in the way of dealing with the prevention of first time sex offences relating to children. Indeed, as others have said, these measures would also have done nothing to prevent Sarah Payne’s murder by a stranger, the very case which provoked calls for a change in the law.
Any attempt to the tackle the issue of paedophilia must of course require some heavy and uncomfortable acknowledgements on society’s part. Paedophilia is contrary to the social and cultural mores of the country, yet in a population of millions it must be accepted that there is a statistical probability for some individuals to have tendencies deemed unacceptable in their community. If this fact is not accepted, the problem can never be dealt with. ‘Voluntary sterilisation’ goes some way to offering a solution for those affected, to get their own issues under control. It was not a million years ago that homosexuality was deemed anti-social and indeed illegal; its suppression did not lead to its eradication, however. Whilst there is no intention for ethical comparison here, the fact is that paedophilia must firstly be given due acknowledgement if it is to be properly understood and neutralised. That is not to suggest there can be a cureall solution. But the focus can be shifted, from preventing reoffenders striking again, to suppressing potential offenders in the first instance.