On the Rights of Children and Pedophiles

The recent case of pedophile Dennis Ferguson raises important questions about the rights of criminals, and the rights of the rest of society. In this instance, the serial child sex offender is moved from one location to another – only to be discovered and hounded out of town.

It is the old NIMBY principle: not in my back yard. And fair enough. What parent would want a known sex offender living next door to one’s own children? I wouldn’t. Nor would most parents. So what is to be done?

Several general remarks can first be made. We live in an age which seems far too concerned about the rights of criminals, and far too little concerned about the rights of victims. The humanitarian view of justice – which I have written about before – tends to take personal responsibility away from criminals, and make excuses for criminal activity.

Also, in a democracy the rights of the majority always have to be balanced by the rights of the minority. And in a nation under the rule of law, criminals do have basic rights as well. But what about the general public? Do not innocent people have a right to be protected from repeat offenders?

In the US after several high-profile cases, action was quick in coming. In 1994 Megan’s Law was passed. Megan Kanka was a seven-year-old girl who was abducted and horribly tortured, raped and killed by a serial sex offender who lived across the street.

As one newspaper account explains, “Megan’s parents Richard and Maureen circulated a petition demanding immediate legislative action to ensure communities were warned about sex offenders in their areas, with the petition garnering more than 400,000 signatures. The law – which supporters argue gives parents the ability to protect their children by making them aware of the presence of convicted sex offenders – was enacted in an unprecedented 89 days.”

It continues, “Megan’s home state of New Jersey was the first to pass the law in 1994, with federal legislation following in 1995 requiring every state to develop a procedure for notifying the public when a person convicted of certain crimes is released near their homes. State laws now require people convicted of specified sex crimes to register as sex offenders with their local law enforcement agencies after release from jail or a mental hospital. The information is made public and can be accessed through local police and each state’s Megan’s Law website. More than 614,000 sex offenders are registered across the US.”

Australian QC Peter Faris has written a recent opinion piece on this issue. He argues that public concern about such criminals “is about protecting children from future assaults, not with punishing the paedophile. Parents do not want revenge on offenders for their past conduct: they want to be certain that paedophiles will not reoffend.”

Like many, he doubts whether real reform is possible for such offenders: “I have practised criminal law across the breadth of Australia for 45 years and I am strongly of the view that paedophiles are very likely to reoffend. That raises serious questions about how to deal with them.”

He examines some options: “First, there is the ‘warehousing’ solution – which would lock them up forever. Whilst this is appropriate for the very worst offenders, it cannot be used against most of them. Second, I do not believe that ‘counselling’ works. You cannot retrain paedophiles. Third, chemical castration has failed. Finally, supervision orders for a long period after jail release depend upon the paedophile obeying the rules. It is all very well having a rule that they cannot go within 500m of a school – but that cannot be enforced every day for every paedophile.”

He then offers Megan’s Law as the best solution: “What is Megan’s law? It is quite simple. It requires the authorities to keep a public register of serious sexual offenders, particularly paedophiles. Upon release from jail, the paedophile must register his address and notify of any change. Non-compliance is a criminal offence. The register is made public. A citizen can see the paedophile’s name, address, photograph and criminal history.”

But here the rights of the offender come up against the rights of the rest of the community. Asks Faris, “Is this fair to paedophiles? Probably not, but that is not the issue. Paedophiles are put on notice that the public believes their crimes to be so foul and the risk of reoffending so high that something must be done. If you do not want to be on the register then don’t do the crime. The protection of children outweighs the rights of paedophiles.”

I think most Australians would agree with him. I basically do. But there is one last consideration, and that involves Christian thought on the issue. What about grace? What about forgiveness? What about a second chance?

Those are all fair questions from a biblical point of view. All believers are simply forgiven sinners. And the saying, “There, but for the grace of God, go I” can be applied to all of us. All believers have been forgiven by a grace which none of us deserve. As we have been freely forgiven, we are to freely forgive.

So what does a believer make about the Ferguson case in particular, and Megan’s Law in general? These are complex issues which cannot be properly treated here. But a few generic remarks can be made. God has ordained the institution of the state to enforce justice and punish wrongdoers. Thus the state has divine sanction to do all it can to protect innocent citizens, ensure justice, and punish criminal activities.

The church is also a God-given institution. Whereas the state deals with crime, the church deals with sin. The two often overlap, but not always. And the church is in the business of extending grace and forgiveness to sinners. Of course it is not cheap grace, and commonsense approaches to various issues need to be followed.

For example, a local church which has caught one of its members involved in areas of sexual misconduct with children can show forgiveness, while at the same time wisely deciding to keep such a person out of the reach of children. If the person has repented and been forgiven, fine, but a church may still not imprudently put that person in charge of the children’s church department.

And individual believers must keep in mind their obligations as citizens of two kingdoms: the earthly and the heavenly. That is, we have biblical responsibilities to both the state and to the church. As citizens of an earthly realm, we may well want to see legislation like Megan’s Law passed.

But as an individual Christian, one may choose to forgive someone like Ferguson. One may even say,  ‘By the grace of God, I am willing to let such a person live next door to me and my children’. But it seems this is an individual judgment call. Some believers may not want the offender anywhere near their kids.

It seems both responses can be acceptable for a believer. I am not now personally in that situation. If I were I would have to think long and hard about it. As a parent, I have a God-given responsibility to protect my children. I am also called to love and forgive my enemies. And I am also called to be wise, cautious and a good citizen.

I suspect I would not be too keen about having such a person live next door. But I have not been placed in that particular predicament as yet, so I have not given it due attention by means of prayer and biblical reflection.

Thus it is a tough case for believers, and here we have obligations which seem to run in several – and at times conflicting – directions. In the Bible grace is always freely available, but the justice of God is never compromised as it is dispensed. For those believers in Queensland right now trying to decide the right thing about all this, all I can do is offer my prayers and the above considerations. The decision still has to be made, nonetheless, and it won’t be easy.


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16 Replies to “On the Rights of Children and Pedophiles”

  1. The issues surrounding paedophilia are going to become even more complicated for the simple reason that there are powerful lobby groups pushing to lower the age of sexual consent, whilst governments are simultaneously sexualising our children through so-called sex education programmes. Some would call this government initiated, mass grooming. Judith Reisman who is a world authority on the evil influence of Alfred Kinsey on western European civilisation calls it crafting: http://www.drjudithreisman.com/archives/regent.pdf

    Paedophilia, like murder, stealing and slander is not just one crime but varies along a spectrum. A person who ends up on a register for a less serious offence, or who is even mistakenly or falsely accused should not be lumped in with someone who is an obvious, major threat. The paedophile needs to be properly screened, given a risk assessment and monitored once back in the community, plus parents should be informed and brought into the process of rehabilitating the offender and if need be, be given the option of refusing an individual, with whom they feel uncomfortable to be anywhere near their children. An authority should also vouch or be made accountable for their behaviour. Whatever, the rights of children should trump all others.

    David Skinner, UK

  2. I think the State should introduce an equivalent law to Megan’s Law and then individual Christians who may find themselves in the situation described can then make up their own minds. As you say, the guiding Christian ethic of the individual Christian and the Church should not be projected on to the State which has different God given responsibilities.

    The other observation I would make is that if the State were carrying out its biblical responsibility to enact capital punishment upon those who murder then there would at least be this category of criminals who would not be a further bother to society.

    Ewan McDonald.

  3. Bill,

    I agree with your line of thought but there is another most important issue here that is not understood let alone being pursued. It is the issue of Justice, the Courts and the rights of both the victim, the victim’s family and the defendant to their day in Court. This has been subverted.

    The defendant, Dennis Ferguson, was released from custody because the Judge believed that he would not receive a fair trial. Why? Because of the behaviour over recent years of thugs, goons, and other hysterical attention-craving village idiots and yokels who only want to see themselves on TV at evening news time. No doubt many of these self proclaimed righteous people condone abortion, pornography, questionable “art”, euthanasia and so on.

    The point is that if it wasn’t for such mindless behaviour Ferguson would now be on trial for his despicable crime and would likely be facing the prospect of many years in jail. Thus he would have been removed from the community and out of harm’s way (his own and potential victims) in a high security cell. If these yobos exercised a little patience, zipped their mouths shut and stayed at home then the community would see justice being done. Now we are witnessing justice being denied as a result of a witch-hunt, vigilante, lynch mob mentality that achieves nothing but an erosion of the right to a fair trial.

    Extend that type of behaviour to other types of heinous crimes then we may as well abolish our courts and employ summary execution as the vehicle for justice. We are on the slippery slide to anarchy if we tolerate such behaviour.

    John McMahon, Kolonga, Qld

  4. I fear the current assessment of pedophilia – earlier known as carnal knowledge diverts attention from dealing with a much greater cause of child abuse viz. fornication and adultery and the break up of families betraying and abandoning vulnerable children. Often this is the result of adult sexual pleasures eclipsing the nurture and safety of children.
    Another problem is seen in several recent cases where serious cases of pedophilia were left with minimal suspeded sentences where the perpetrators were female.
    Ian Lloyd

  5. At one time paedophilia was a serious crime; it has now moved to a psychological disorder and will soon change to an acceptable orientation and finally it will simply be a choice out of great range of sexual experiences: http://www.tpuc.org/node/151 (Germany and EU to Legalise Paedophilia)
    David Skinner, UK

  6. I’m of the opinion that Bill’s right, as usual, but there is another question to deal with.

    If Megan’s laws are successful we in effect drive paedophiles into living two identities, force them into remote areas or make it so impossible to hide they go much more militant. I’m seeing talk on the web that looks ominous. In effect faced with an impossibility of hiding; public paedophile parties have emerged in Europe mainly Holland and Denmark. Such parties often claiming to be libertarian or left anarchist.

    Some are active in an attempt to create new political systems. This is not new, 12 years ago I was involved in a project to write a constitution for a libertarian new nation ‘Oceania’. It was a web based project. I made a few contributions mostly fighting abortion and an attempt there to get a low or zero age of consent. Quite a few apparent paedophiles weighted in on the debate but my side won. The risk is that if pushed out of society, then they may organise and create there own societies in remote areas and unstable countries. There they plot various ways to get children, kidnapping or bogus adoption agencies, and away from prying eyes exploit these children.

    Today its not science fiction as much as it seemed in 1996. Madeleine McCann is still missing and there was the story of a boat leaving the area that night and sailing to a middle east country that lacks any age of consent laws. There are even claims from the Balkan war that some mercenaries and ‘aid workers’ were rapist, sadists and paedophiles taking advantage of the war to pursue their lusts. There is even the possibility that a massacre that prolonged the war was intentionally done by a third (fourth) party who was taking advantage of the chaos.

    I’m of the opinion that if we go down the Megan’s law path we should create a few halfway houses on remote properties hundreds of miles from the nearest town. There the ex-prisoner has full services including monitored broadband, shops, beer and normal services, work in farming or appropriate manufacturing, and their wife and adult kids may live with them if they choose

    Note: I think single gender jails may have failed and we need to consider if we might not find “prison townships” a more viable option for some of our less violent prison population. A partly closed supervised community where the prisoner lives with his or her family and singles are able to find partners of the appropriate gender. The jails we have today are functioning as homosexuality factories and collages of criminality.
    If jails are just punishment; there are much cheaper tools of torture. If their rehabilitation then some should be coeducation.

    Wesley Bruce

  7. As homosexuality becomes more accepted, which in turn increases its frequency expect an equivalent increase in paedophilia. It is not coincidental that paedophilia is mostly dominated by males who target boys.
    Michael Mifsud

  8. Bill,
    This is the mentality of calling evil good, and calling good….WHAT? It is going to get worst. The response to the problem is just to expect it and expect to have trouble as a Christian too. The Lord wants those folk born again trusting the blood of Jesus our creator and Lord. You got guts and you are doing the world a blessing…BIG time.
    Christian Love and Prayers to you folk.
    Br Jim Junkins

  9. Bill, thanks for your good article on an important issue and for the others who have contributed.

    I note in your original (and I agree) that QC Faris mentions degrees of paedophilia. While I’m sure we would all acknowledge that sin is sin, and all sin is rebellion against God (‘black and white’), how we should respond to these people is another matter and may vary.

    One of the problems with Dennis Ferguson, as I understand it, is that he has no intention of renouncing his paedophile values or ways. The Lord Jesus taught that entertaining thoughts of sinful acts are just as if they had been committed, so it would seem to me inappropriate to forgive someone who still intends to sin. (I do not believe God would look favourably on such an insincere request for forgiveness without the repentance you did mention.) We can forgive past sin, but if a person like Ferguson intends to continue sinning is it really past?

    It would seem that perhaps the only way to be repatriated from the grasp of paedophilia is by the touch of God. And I don’t mean a “decision” and claim to “follow” Christ. I mean a real touch of God in the life of a person that results in being truly “born again” – a totally new life in Christ.

    The onus is on these people who have committed such crimes to demonstrate that they have reformed their ways. You shall know them by their fruit. So, although we should always be ready with the ‘olive branch’ and make it clear that we are, I do not believe we should be hasty to offer it until we are comfortable that it is time to do so. (Personally, I would see this as being a Holy Spirit produced peace in my spirit about the issue. Of course, this requires a good relationship with God to begin with – it is not like ‘pulling a rabbit out of a hat’.)

    As stated in your article, there but for the grace of God go I, which should motivate us to pray for these terribly lost individuals to also receive God’s grace.

    Apologies for the length. Many thanks and God bless,
    Ray Miles

  10. With regard to forgiveness, I look to the example of David and Nathan over Bathseba. While David was forgiven, he still had to face the consequences of his actions. There is a misunderstanding about forgiveness that says that we pretend the offence never happened, which is not what scripture says.
    There is a strong effort in the USA and in the Netherlands to make pedophilia legal by portraying themselves as victims of society.
    Having worked in the corrections area I know that many pedophiles consider themselves victims, and show no sign of changing their behaviour (as evidenced by repeat offending).
    I fear that if the courts do not act to deal with pedophiles, there are those who will take the law into their hands on the pretext that the law is not protecting their children, so they are forced to. Therefore action now is necessary to prevent a worse situation developing by politicians and the courts to preserve law and order.
    Richard Coonan

  11. Thanks guys

    A number of good comments here. I can’t single them all out. But I think Ray is correct in what he says about a person who intends on sinning and shows no signs of repentance or trying to turn things around.

    And Richard is quite right in saying that forgiveness does not necessarily mean the consequences of our actions simply disappear. I have written about this same issue here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2007/10/14/sin-forgiveness-and-consequences/

    Keep those great comments coming.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  12. Ray Miles,
    I agree 100%. I think forgivness should be forthcoming but forgetfulness? Hardly. As Jesus instructs us – be forgiving but cunning in the ways of the world. Christians should not be doormats.

    Also, western society has moved away from a punishment based justice system to a victim based justice system. Certainly offenders should be reconciled with society – but they must be punished. What happened to the chain gangs of old? We should return our jail system to something similiar to hard-labour style punishment – no gym work for example.

    I recall seeing a USA jail warden doing this exactly. His prison was a bunch of tents in the middle of the arizona desert. Inmates performed hard labour all day and had no other physical outlet (though they had plenty of mental outlest – like a library, education, degress etc). He had almost a 100% assimilation rate back into society (no re-offending).

    Unfortunetly I can’t find a link about this particular warden. I recall watching a docomunetary on his prison back in the early Zeros.

    Michael Mifsud

  13. Hi Bill

    I agree that a Megan’s Law system would be most appropriate for pedophiles, however, having seen some documentaries about sex offender registers (US based), they can have some very nasty consequences for young people who have ended up on such registers for life (or for a long period of time) for simply having sex and/or sexually experimenting as teens and young adults and being caught by parents/caregivers.The consequences of being on such a register for those young people has been nothing short of devastating and debilitating for their study, job and overall future prospects. Therefore I would not like to see a sexual offender register which punishes anything other than pedophilia.

    Andrew Dinham, Hope Valley, SA.

  14. I think the best thing to do in the case of a church dealing with a paedophile is to let the police decide. If he becomes born again the old man is dead. But just as there will be many who stand before the judgement seat of Christ and call out Lord, Lord, there will be those who call themselves Christian who are not. What are the two groups that have the highest incidences of pedophilia? Why churches and sports groups? It is not just the catholic church that has covered these things up. I have seen many ‘churches’ where the policy of forgiveness was over extended and it was not until the law became involved that it became an issue. What is of greater concern is the aftermarth of the world youth day week. Many bishops have diplomatic immunity (see what the pope did to get out of a court case where he was being sued for protecting pedophiles in texas). He simply got out because he has his own country Vatican City.
    If you are in a church don’t let ‘grace’ get confused with stupidity. Your obligation is to God first, your family second, and to the law third. Do what you can to obey God hence protect your family and obey the government. If you know the movements of a paedophile inform the police straight away!!!
    Andrew Lacey

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