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Debate: Electronic tagging of pedophiles

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Should convicted paedophiles be electronically tagged?

Background and context

In November 2002 The Observer reported that the British government was considering the use of surgically implanted electronic tags in convicted paedophiles, which could be used after release at the end of their sentence to track their whereabouts using satellite technology. The tags could also monitor heart rate and blood pressure, giving indication of the possibility of a potential attack. Tracker, the company which runs Britain’s largest stolen vehicle monitoring network, has been approached about paedophile monitoring, and Compaq has been asked to develop software for it - Compaq already provides similar technology to Nasa for remote monitoring of astronauts’ bodily functions.

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Argument #2

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Yes

We can place exclusion zones around areas where we know children are likely to be: schools, playgrounds and so on, and forbid known paedophiles from entering them. If a paedophile enters the zone, the police can be alerted through the tagging system. Also, if the monitors measure heart rate and blood pressure, the police can be alerted when a paedophile exhibits symptoms of nervousness that might indicate that they are about to commit a crime. This will make children safer.

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No

Paedophiles don’t abduct children from schools. Abductions are very rare in any case, but where they do happen they are much more likely to be on the street or in the countryside, where these exclusion zones would not apply, so that idea does nothing to protect children. Other potential risks, such as paedophiles contacting children through the internet and arranging meetings with them, are not affected by this proposal. Heart rate and blood pressure are not changed only by trying to have sex with children - the paedophile might just like jogging.

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Argument #1

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Yes

Our children are in danger from paedophiles. In England in 2000, Sarah Payne was sexually abused and murdered by Roy Whiting, who had a previous child abuse conviction and was known to the police - if his whereabouts at the time of Sarah’s abduction had been known, the police could have followed him and perhaps saved her life.

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No

Most child abuse cases take place in the home, within familes. The ‘danger areas’ for paedophilia are therefore in many cases the paedophiles’ own houses, not school playgrounds. Are the police going to arrest paedophiles for being at home? Moreover, most child abuse is perpetrated by people who have not yet been convicted of anything: this measure does nothing to stop them.

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Argument #3

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Yes

Tagging presents a strong deterrent to paedophiles, who know they have an excellent chance of being caught if they commit an offence, because the police know where they are at all times. It would also reassure the public, without needing to resort to the naming and shaming of released sex offenders.

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No

This measure results from public hysteria over paedophilia - fed by, for example, the News of the World’s publication of paedophiles’ addresses - which does not reflect the reality of the situation, and in which the bogeyman figure of the ‘stranger’ paedophile covers up the much bigger risk of child sex abuse by people known to, and related to, the children involved.

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Argument #4

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Yes

This measure protects the innocent: if convicted paedophiles were tagged and their whereabouts known at all times, it would be easy for the police to eliminate them from their enquiries when children were abducted, because they would have a cast-iron alibi: the fact that they have a previous record could not be a pretext for the police to arrest them.

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No

The police have lists of convicted paedophiles and their addresses anyway, and they can use these when trying to eliminate suspects without the immense logistical problems caused by having to monitor the movements of paedophiles in real time on computer screens. Also, if the technology was faulty, clever paedophiles might be able to hack into the system, constructing cast-iron false alibis ‘proving’ they were at home when the offence was committed.

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Argument #5

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Yes

Tagging is routinely used for prisoners on parole, and has been shown to reduce parole violations: rather than seeing it as an abuse of their civil liberties, they should consider themselves lucky that a simple surveillance device enables them to live in the community, with certain restrictions, rather than in prison. People who don’t want their civil liberties taken away from them shouldn’t sexually violate children - if they do, then tough luck. Any extension of the system would have to be considered on its own merits; the fact that its use might not be justifiable with other groups has no bearing on the question of whether it is appropriate for paedophiles.

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No

This is part of a culture of surveillance which increases our sense of vulnerability, both by encouraging us to think of ourselves as being surrounded by potential criminal threats and by reminding us that we are constantly being watched. If tagging is such a great way of stopping paedophilia, why not tag all children? Why not tag everyone, so that the police know exactly where everyone is at all times and can stop all crimes, eliminating the problem that some people have no previous criminal convictions? If this is unacceptable, then tagging paedophiles is unacceptable for the same reasons. And if this works, there is a danger that the government might seek to apply it to other marginalized groups such as asylum seekers - this sets a very dangerous precedent.

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Argument #6

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Yes

People will feel safer: many children are kept indoors because of their parents’ fear of paedophiles. If they feel confident that paedophiles will not attack them, they will be more likely to give their children more independence, which will benefit their health and social development.

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No

This is a false sense of security: most paedophiles have not been convicted of anything and will not be tagged - if there are more children around, they will be easier for them to target. Also, paedophiles are not the only threat to children: if more of them play outside and more of them get killed in road accidents, where’s the benefit?

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Argument #7

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Yes

It is absolutely unacceptable that the rights of the perpetrators of crime should count for more than those of their potential and actual victims. If people are prepared to break the law, especially if they have a psychological condition which encourages them to do so, they have to be monitored to protect the public.

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No

Seeing children as helpless victims of ‘evil, predatory paedophiles’, as this policy does, contributes to a culture in which paedophilia is implicitly normalised: it portrays children as potential sex objects and hence eroticises their vulnerability, which makes paedophilia, while still unacceptable, more socially expected, and more likely.

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Argument #8

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Yes

Paedophilia is a condition that is very difficult to cure; the fact that someone has served a prison sentence does not necessarily mean he is not a risk. In any case, we do retain criminal records and details of released offenders - this is perfectly sensible, and not a threat to civil liberties.

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No

This is an abuse of civil liberties: once people have been released from prison they are considered to have paid their debt to society, and we have no right to continue to keep them under surveillance.

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