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Friday, 21 December, 2001, 10:43 GMT
"Sarah's Law": Can it work?
The parents of murdered eight-year-old Sarah Payne have met the Home Secretary David Blunkett to discuss a change in the law governing sex offenders.
Sara and Michael Payne were joined by Rebekah Wade, the News of the World editor, who is backing their calls for a so-called Sarah's Law.
This would allow controlled public access to the Sex Offenders' Register so parents would know when a paedophile is living in their neighbourhood.
But those who work with sex offenders fear that such a move will drive paedophiles underground and make their treatment and monitoring more difficult.
Would children be safer if the measures sought by the Paynes were to be implemented? Or would it drive paedophiles underground?
This Talking Point has now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
I very much feel that the real problem is what happens within the families. Statistics (and experience of social workers and psychologists) clearly show that most child abuse happens within the "protected" framework of the family. So exposing paedophiles won't help much, again we have experience to guide us on this. Did anybody in the middle-ages refrain from stealing because he/she knew he/she would be publicly exposed if found out?
This proposed law is ill thought out and does not address the problem.
What use is "controlled access" in any case? If one person has access to this type of information it will soon end up spread around the internet in any case.
It is somewhat uncomfortable that a victim's name be drawn into a legislation that seeks blind revenge on perhaps mistreated persons. Sexual offenders should have at least psychological rehabilitation before setting them free. This new law could even worsen the situation.
If these animals were locked up and never let out again we wouldn't have calls for Sarah's Law. It is the lenient sentencing in this country which killed Sarah, not the lack of a register or a name and shame campaign.
Being a paedophile is not a matter of choice like, say, deciding to become a stamp collector. Like other forms of sociopathic behaviour, these people have an incurable mental illness. The idea of punishing them for a particular offence, then letting them out on the streets again is totally ludicrous. Clearly the Sex Offender's Register is a waste of time, otherwise Whiting and people like him wouldn't be able to re-offend. Our only hope is for it to become impossible for these people to re-offend by making sure that they are watched constantly, and that temptation is never put in their path.
I do not feel that Sarah's Law would be a workable solution to the dangers present in our communities. One of the major problems is that it focuses so much attention on one small section of the community whilst probably ignoring many more equally dangerous avenues. It disables the intentions of the system to rehabilitate those who have wronged in our society according to the law. Surely our children's protection is in the hands of us as parents? Reducing the risks by proper chaperoning of our children and creating a society which takes responsibility for what it sees would be a much greater step forward.
Peter Barraclough, England
Where does the "naming and shaming" end? First paedophiles, then murderers, robbers and then, in the far distant future, it ends at a shoplifter? A local authority in my area has hung out a list of debtors and reduced the amount they are owed through rent not being paid. This works, but a "Sarah's Law" will only bring vigilantes.
Some years ago I was falsely accused of molesting my two year old daughter by a vindictive child minder. This was based on just a few words she had said to the minder which raised suspicions in her mind. After the nightmare of dealing with social services, they grudgingly accept my innocence. If I had been wrongly found guilty (and the evidence often boils down to one person's word against another), I would rather top myself than be identified to the public - leaving my own children fatherless.
I would totally agree with the people on this Talking Point who are against publicly identifying convicted pedophiles if it were not for four things: Paedophiles often repeat their crimes, many paedophiles are resourceful as to take positions in the community to win the trust of parents and children, the victims of this horrible crime are children and, my personal experience.
In Chicago, the police's website has a link to registered sex offenders living in the city. Out of curiosity I checked who were, the offenders living in my neighbourhood. I recognized one of them - a man who was on our neighbourhood park committee whose job was to hold the playlot key. This meant that children had to come over to his house and ask for the key if they wanted to play in the gated playlot. Upon learning this information, we were able to quickly remove him from this job and the neighbourhood children from potential danger.
If a responsible organisation like the police (whose website warns that any vigilantism which result from using the information will be severely prosecuted) rather than a tabloid performs the task of identifying convicted sex offenders, I think the community would greatly benefit.
In the US we have Megan's Law, and we passed it in spite of similar arguments against it. It seems to me that the victims of Megan's Law fare much better than the victims of the crime that invoked it--the difference being, of course, that the victims of Megan's Law have a say in the matter. Don't do the crime. Don't do the time.
It's very important that we name and shame sex offenders, because otherwise we might have to face up to some unpleasant truths rather closer to home.
Much easier to shout abuse at some convenient bogeyman than admit to the carnage caused on our roads every day by careless and speeding motorists. No, much better to have naming and shaming and keep driving like maniacs.
As much as my heart goes out to the family of Sarah Payne, I do believe that it serves no purpose to have public knowledge of sex offenders. This will only lead to witch hunts and mob violence that has no place in civilised society. The issue should lie with the police and justice system and also looked at, as there are still dangerous paedophiles released into the general public. I certainly don't think that News of the World is following this tragedy for the sake of the child's parents.
My wife's job title includes the dread prefix 'paed'. If she or I were to suffer from vigilante action at the hands of ignorant morons who don't know the difference, would there be any real redress for us? We'd probably end up in court for assault if we tried to defend ourselves. The News of the World is beneath contempt when it says that it's concerned about protecting children. All it's really bothered about protecting are its circulation figures. Naming and shaming is NOT the answer, but perhaps exposing ludicrously lenient sentences for child molesters is. But that doesn't sell as many papers, does it?
I don't think they should be called names for something that they done. I understand that they have done sonething really bad in the past and they will always have that guilt if they feel sympathy for their victim or victims. So please, you should not judge them for what they have done because you don't know what they went through to act upon those thoughts.
Please correct me if I'm wrong but my understanding is that Roy Whiting has been convicted of murder, not paedophilia. The word paedophile renders the British incapable of rational thought! We all need to realise that UK law offers protection to none of us and we're not allowed to defend ourselves either.
How many innocent, misidentified adults equal one child?
Interested to see the 'all paedophiles should be executed' comments. There was a case at the weekend where a Staffordshire man was released three and a half years into his sentence for raping an 11 year old girl. She also said he'd abused her between the ages of four and six. She's now admitted that she made the story up to get attention from her mother. Should that innocent man have been executed?
Russell Long, UK
Why should child sex offenders be treated differently from any other serious criminals? Why does nobody "name and shame" people who have been released after serving sentences for murder of adults? Why not make the whereabouts of ex-murderers known to everyone? Are we saying that we don't want to live in an area where former child-sex offenders live, but we're perfectly happy to live next door to someone who has murdered adults? Murder is murder, it doesn't become worse just because you murder a child.
Karel Batty, United Kingdom
Alex White, UK
The last time this happened I remember seeing some teenage lads spraying "X is a paedophile" on a wall in the city centre. Naming and shaming the real paedophiles isn't the problem, it's the number of ignorant and malicious people out there who ride on the back of such action, who think they will get back at a neighbour who has upset them by telling everyone that they are a paedophile. Perhaps, and before you know it, some perfectly innocent person has been attacked or murdered as a result. This whole law needs to be thought about very carefully, not to protect the paedophile, but to protect others from the inevitable mistakes and repercussions that will occur.
The rest of my family has had a lot of abuse from our neighbours about what happened 13 years after the event, so much so we moved away to start again, where nobody knew our background. Don't you think the families of these people have the right to live with their secret, not wondering who will find out next and have to start life over and over again. Having this file available is not going to stop them. It will not stop them from travelling to areas which they are not known, so all you are going to do is move the problem to the next town and you will have people coming to your town as well.
The only way is for parents and children to become more aware of the dangers in all areas. Are we to have a list available for every area we visit or stop at? This would be stupid. The solution is to educate the children about the dangers out there and protect them. I am very sad about what has happened but bringing in this law will not stop it from ever happening again. I say this as a very worried parent of three girls.
Well done to P Morris for her courageous posting. I urge everyone to read and re-read it before leaping to any conclusions. Naming and shaming (or execution even more so) can end up hurting the victims of abuse and making it more difficult for them to rebuild their lives. Dealing with child abuse takes patient, careful thought and hard work, not easy slogans.
As a parent I have no time whatsoever for these disgusting animals. However, I can't see how "Sarah's Law" can work in practical terms. Once there is any public access to the register the immediate result will be crowds of understandably angry and scared people gathering at every known sex-offender's address. The offenders in question will without doubt disappear and will not register elsewhere, defeating the whole purpose of the law in the first place.
The authorities should deal with these offenders accordingly but I don't support the new proposed law. At least I remember what happened when a major newspaper in Britain decided to publish names and addresses of offenders, with suicides and violence following. Tougher prison sentences and expanded control of these people, and everybody should be happy enough.
I remember seeing a documentary on 'Megan's Law' a couple of years ago and it seemed that the communities are told that any reprisals on the paedophiles and they lose the right to know. The main objective of Megan's Law (which should be the same for Sarah's Law) is the right of parents, teachers etc to protect children from paedophiles.
Apart from the dangers of mistaken identity, I fail to see how this 'naming and shaming' campaign helps anyone. What are people supposed to do once they know who the offenders are? This is why we have regulated authorities to deal with these 'people'. The general public should not need to take the law into its own hands.
They should be named and shamed and also display a tattoo on their face so everyone knows who they are. I do not feel sorry for them at all. Any sex crime involving innocent children should carry the minimum term of life as these people are evil beyond belief.
Ray Marsh, Australia
How does the proposed "Sarah's Law" protect children that live at the other end of a railway line from convicted sex offenders? How would it, indeed, have protected Sarah, when we hear that Roy Whiting travelled quite a distance to kidnap her? Sarah's parents might well have checked the register, but seeing that there was no sex offender living in the area, would they have cancelled their holiday? Sex offenders that do cooperate with the register, therefore, will face public vilification at home and no particular restriction on them should they decide to re-offend - other than to have to travel a bit so they're not doing it in their own backyard, but instead in a place where parents feel secure about their children playing unsupervised, as there are no sex offenders living in the area... This is a tabloid proposal and it brings with it all the baggage that entails - badly thought out, sensationalist and pandering to the lowest denominator in this society.
On the other hand, it seems increasingly obvious that sex offences are most commonly carried out by re-offenders and that this class of crime is different from others in that it seems to stem from a form of mental pathology. The entire object of our judicial system is protection, so surely this class of offenders should be prevented from rejoining society until we can definitively say that their pathology is in a "safe" state, rather than having the length of their detention decided by a non-expert judge at the time of conviction. Given that we seem to have no way of making this judgment, perhaps sex-offenders should be detained in secure hospitals for the term of their natural lives.
The world has gone mad! How could any mercy be felt for these animals. Sex offenders should be named, shamed and if it were up to me slowly tortured to death publicly. We are now living in a world where the law favours criminals and things will only get worse if we as an international society let this happen. These sex offenders should be made examples of so future offenders will think twice.
John D, USA
Since some of its readers seem to have difficulty in distinguishing between paediatricians and paedophiles, the News of the World should be prevented from carrying out its "naming and shaming" campaign. Sarah Payne's death was undeniably a terrible tragedy, but a tabloid newspaper should not be the vehicle used to bring about any changes in the law.
A country must be judged on the way it protects its children. If the government really cannot organise a system that ensures that people who kidnap and assault 9 year old girls are imprisoned then it should resign. To pass the onus onto parents and the community via a version of 'Megan's Law' is a scandal. The law can be changed within weeks to accommodate the US terrorist problems but to protect our children takes years. If the government is incapable of protecting our children then the public will have to do it - but in that case we have no use for the highly paid politicians and they should go. I do not want to know that a dangerous paedophile lives near me. I want him to be locked up until he is safe to be released.
J C Jordan, USA
Having three young daughters of my own I can only support a policy where known paedophiles are registered and named. Surely, a child's innocence is the most precious thing, to be protected at all costs. As parents and as a society, we are required to protect and nurture our children. How can we do this if we are not aware that a paedophile lives three doors away? Surely, the psychological and physical damage inflicted on a child is to be prevented at all costs, versus the discomfort felt by a paedophile when he is named? The question is asked: who requires our protection the most? Who deserves to be protected? Surely the answer must be: a trusting and defenceless child, who has done nothing wrong, except to perhaps be in the wrong time at the wrong place?
The News of the World should concentrate their efforts into finding the root cause of the problem. Then helping to change laws, and research better treatment/counselling for these sick individuals. But then, that wouldn't sell as many papers would it.
It may seem a good move on the newspapers part, but aren't the media trying to do the job of the police, don't the editors tend to think they are better than the police? In the long run, isn't it just the papers trying to get better sale figures?
Rather than focus on the real tragedy of child abuse - the vast majority of which is perpetrated by trusted family members or friends - people would prefer to focus on the monstrous, alien figure of the lone, predatory child molester. It's certainly a lot easier than facing up to the fact that the most common abusers are brothers, uncles, fathers, priests or teachers.
Issues such as mistaken identity; rehabilitation; proper risk assessment; education for children on all matters relating to sexual abuse, not just "stranger danger"; and the confusion over whether to treat child abuse as a social evil, the most heinous of criminal acts or as a mental disorder; these issues tend to be lost in ill-judged hysteria. I believe that this issue is far too important to be hijacked by lynch-mob vigilantes seeking an "acceptable" outlet for their violent and murderous tendencies.
Absolutely they should be named and shamed. Here in Texas the law erects a sign that must stay in front of the sex offenders home for everyone to see. Those guilty should be punished by sentence or ridicule...
Keith W, England
It's a sad fact that most children who are sexually abused are abused by a family member or close family friend. Venting our collective anger about this problem on a relative minority of isolated offenders to make ourselves feel better in the short term will only mean that we are brushing the real problem under the carpet - a problem which lies at the heart of UK society but may always be too painful for the vast majority of people to face up to.
The law should be changed to allow local councils to maintain and publish a list of names and addresses of known offenders. This list should be available to the public upon request. Additionally, offenders who refuse treatment, fail to register or disclose their addresses should be arrested and prosecuted. A public witch-hunt in the national press does nothing to help the victims of this heinous crime.
I care about my child's right to safety and my responsibility to provide that safety. I want to know about all dangers that exist in my community. Failure to communicate any such information to me violates my child's rights to safety.
Yes, they should be revealed for what they are.
Shona Gwynne, England
My concern with the newspaper's campaign is that it gives even more credence to the myth that most paedophiles are lone predators.
Far from it, most victims of abuse are either abused by a member of their own family or a close friend of the family - normally someone who is trusted and wears a mask so the rest of the world does not know what sort of man (or, rarely woman) they are. Until this vital fact is addressed, this problem is never going to go away.
We constantly talk about harsh penalties for sex offenders, but not once has anyone raised the point that maybe the constant bombardment of sex and violence on the TV and internet is at least one of the many parts of this sick problem.
Even though it may be a very slight deterrent, the law cannot completely deal with the problem of paedophilia. Instead, research needs to be done into preventing it from happening in the first place and to "cure" those already infected with this mental illness.
As expressed by other correspondents there could be serious implications if the media does name and shame. My main concern is that an innocent person who happens to look like a picture in the paper will be the target for vigilantes as we saw in Portsmouth.
Sex offenders are not going to 'go away' just because they have been 'named and shamed' (That's assuming that they actually ARE 'shamed' by their actions). What is more likely to happen is that they will become increasingly more desperate to ensure they are not caught following the abuse they carry out. I think that we need to be careful that the punishment doesn't exacerbate the problem rather than reduce it.
The same problem arises with the notion of 'chemical castration' as the States is proposing. 'Sex abuse' is often an act of aggression that is not necessarily related to 'sex' per se.
I don't believe that the publication of details of paedophiles would have made any difference in this case or in the future. Whiting was free to do as he pleased and was a suspect within 24 hours of the incident. Just because offenders' details are on a register in the public domain or otherwise, they could drive anywhere in the UK to satisfy their perversions.
I agree unreservedly with what seems to be the majority opinion here - sentencing is the real issue. Convicted paedophiles should be locked up for life, meaning life, not ten or twenty years, and definitely not two years. If that is too much of a burden on the public purse, then yes, we should reconsider the death penalty. We don't want these people in our society, whether we know where they are or not.
Allowing parents to view the names and whereabouts of paedophiles, although seeming to give parents reassurance of their children's safety, is ethically wrong. The violence last year after such a list was published shows the danger that this can do. Surely rather than asking the government to publish the whereabouts of such people should there not be more done to monitor their actions by the police, instead of placing it into the hands of angry parents, much more able to damage children's morals by attacking these people than allowing the police to closely monitor them, thus allowing no damage to come to either party.
Yes, the sex offenders register should be published, so that newspapers cannot endanger the innocent by printing inaccurate information. It should be sent, twice a year to every address in the country. The rights of the innocent must always be placed above those of offenders, who made a decision to commit their crimes, after all, and must be aware of the potential implications for themselves. Vigilantes should be punished, but everyone should know who is a potential danger to their children.
Even known sex offenders who have committed no crime and those with spent convictions, or who have been released, as well as those who have been convicted, should be removed from society, as they cannot be rehabilitated.
Instead of housing released paedophiles 'in the community', I suggest a sex offenders gulag, to which they can all be exiled to live together, perhaps on a remote and inaccessible island, off the coast of Scotland, or in the South Atlantic, or Pacific, or perhaps on land in British Antarctic Territory. This would mean that all sex offenders were removed from circulation, but not imprisoned, and would make a wonderful study for sociologists, psychologists, and fly-on-the-wall documentary makers.
Suppose that Roy Whiting's name had been given to locals so they could make a sensible judgement on how to protect their children. He could still have driven 100 miles to commit his crime, and chances are the police wouldn't know where he was living because he would be more likely to give a false address. Would we have caught and convicted this man on the basis of tiny fragments of forensic evidence? The police were able to use the sex offenders register to catch this monster. What's happened is tragic, but the tragedy would have been compounded if he had the opportunity to commit further crimes.
Toby Martin, Germany
Do we really want information of this nature to get into the hands of people who do not know the difference between a paedophile and a paediatrician?
As a parent myself, my initial reaction is "why let them out?" when I need to know that my children are protected. However, I have as big a problem with "naming and shaming", especially in newspapers, as I have about the return of the death penalty because of the huge potential for miscarriages of justice. England isn't the tolerant, law-abiding, morally-driven, religious country it was in the 1940s - nowadays it only takes one photo in the News Of The World and five drunken, undereducated skinheads to misread "paediatrician" or mistake some unlucky bystander or address and bingo! Emasculation, fire bombings and murder could all follow. By all means lock them away from my kids and keep them there the full term, but anything else is fraught with danger.
Whiting is without cure his re offending has proved this. If these type of people are released from prison they should be electronically tagged for life and named in the community. The risks are too great - we must protect the ones we love the most, our kids.
Matt, Amsterdam, Netherlands (ex. UK)
Society has a strong moral duty to protect the innocent and vulnerable from predatory men and women such as Whiting. This compelling duty outweighs in all respects the so-called 'rights' of convicted paedophiles to walk our streets after serving a small part of the sentences handed down by the Courts. The Law must, as an urgent priority, be amended to provide this protection, so that these people are kept in custodial situations for long periods of time, thereby affording protection of our innocents.
Sex offenders of any ilk, be it on children or adults should be kept away from anyone to whom they present a threat. Even upon their release they should have to wear GPS tracking devices that alerts authorities ASAP should they go near to schools or playgrounds. In fact I believe they just shouldn't be let out at all if a conviction is made without doubt.
Have to agree with most of the comments which I have just read. How do we as ordinary people try to change the laws of this country regarding sex offenders. In my opinion they should never be allowed onto the streets again. Its obvious that they will re-offend. Every parent will feel the anguish that the Payne family have gone through. The pain would be indescribable. How then can our society say that these perverse people should be treated as humans? In some respects I feel that the death penalty should be brought back because, as it stands, there is no deterrent for these or other acts of inhumanity against human beings.
No child - boy or girl - will be safe from these monsters until we re-establish the death penalty! There should be no second chance! The dreadful, sickening fact that this evil pervert had already been convicted and set free under our liberal law makes the point entirely. Whilst in prison he refused treatment! No society can call itself civilised when young and innocent children are subjected to this terror. The death penalty not only stops a re-offence, it more importantly acts as a powerful deterrent
Hindsight is a good thing. But what about the circumstances surrounding Roy Whiting's release? Should those in public service be held accountable for allowing this? Will there be an enquiry into this and any others with a history of such offences who have been released early?
Once again, an evil man with intent, was allowed back into the community to re-offend. How many times has this to happen before the law is changed? My heart goes out the Payne family. It may not be a Christian view but in my mind, despite do-gooders claiming that these fiends can be re-habilitated, they should be locked up and the key thrown away. They have no place in society. There is no excuse whatsoever to take an innocent life. No amount of counselling can ever justify their despicable and heinous actions. Why bother with them? Let them rot in hell.
Sophie Palmer, UK
I would like to pay tribute to the courage shown
by Sarah's parents, who I feel have maintained
their dignity at all times.
Unfortunately a Sarah's law would not help
matters because there is always a paedophile
living nearby. What would have helped is, if
when he was in prison the last time, he was forced
to undergo treatment that chemically removed
his sex drive. I'm sure it would have breached
his human rights but at least poor Sarah would
still have hers.
Richard A, UK
Paedophiles should be held apart from the rest of society because they are a permanent danger to all our children. They can't be cured, they can't be trusted and they can't be allowed to roam free.
I fail to see, even with a charitable heart, how a person who has 'gone over the edge' of reasonable behaviour in this manner, can be reformed. Anyone who in such a manner and for such a motive causes harm to a child must, must be confined for a longer period of time than is currently the case. How can an offender be allowed a discount on their sentence for 'good behaviour'
when the very cause of their 'bad behaviour' is, by definition, not available to tempt them in an adult prison?
The application of the law should be tougher. What is the point of a system which allows the likes of this warped individual to harm the most vulnerable in our society? When systems fail - they must be changed. There is NO EXCUSE for these crimes. Commit them once and the offenders should be put away forever.
Philip S Hall, UK
18 Dec 01 | England
Paynes 'positive' after meeting
18 Dec 01 | England
Paynes ask Blunkett for 'Sarah's Law'
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