It is a popular opinion among far right-wingers that child molesters should be executed. Aside from the sheer immorality of this, it would actually make things much worse for those kids who were abused in such a system. Consider it: we don’t even execute most murderers in the U.S., and if the sentence for abusing a child was exactly the same as, or worse than, if they had killed someone, the chances of an abuser killing his victim to cover up the abuse suddenly increases greatly.
As it is, I already have my doubts about many of these familial murder-suicides that have become an all too common trend in the U.S. over the last decade. I am convinced that at least some of these are cover-ups of intrafamilial sexual abuse, because in our current society it is better to be the guy who kills his entire family than the guy who molests his own kids, isn’t it? Many of these killings seem to come in the wake of a family breakup, but why the breakup? Perhaps the wife has reason to believe or knows her husband is abusing the children; maybe she even threatened to report him, but certainly breaking off the relationship would be an important first step. If that’s the case, and he faces a long prison sentence and all the stigma that comes with being labeled a child molester, than the abuser is likely to see his life is being effectively over anyway, so suicide is a distinct possibility there, and why not take out the rest of the family as well? That way, at least no one will ever learn his shameful secret.
Now imagine a society where sex offenders are regularly executed. Do you think offenders aren’t going to realize that they are almost certainly going to be reported at some point if the child is left alive? Wouldn’t it be worthwhile for the offender to risk killing the child or children in that case and make them disappear in order to cover up their crimes? Is that the world you really want? Think about it carefully and you’ll realize I am right. Executing sex offenders would be a tremendously bad idea, because once someone has stepped over that line and abused a child, they have little to lose by not killing their victim and doing everything in their power to cover up their crime.
Of course, many of the most hateful people will still argue for it. As I have maintained all along, these guys don’t really care about protecting kids anyway, and their adherence to this viewpoint proves it. Such a policy would be horrible for molestation victims—once you were molested, your life expectancy would automatically go way, way down. What a terrible tragedy that would be: sexually abused, only to be murdered by your abuser afterward. Many sex offenders aren’t monsters—they are just people who succumbed to a moment of weakness. But enacting the death penalty for sexual abuse would almost certainly turn them into murderers.
Which leads to my broader point: when you label people monsters without considering their case, those people will have little reason not to behave as such. In American Horror Story: Freakshow, there’s a point where Jimmy Darling, the lobster-handed boy, right after killing a police officer who was harassing his friends, says, “They want to call us monsters? Fine, we’ll act like monsters!” This is an overt cinematic example of a real-life phenomenon summarized as labeling theory. It would be even more applicable in cases where the labeled person faced a genuine threat to life and limb.
So, next time someone says that child molesters should be killed, you might want to remind them of how dangerous that would be for kids.