Child molesters undoubtedly commit one of the most loathed and brutal crimes known to humanity. Their photographs are front-page material for local newspapers, so worried parents can keep an eye out for their children. Steingrímur Njálsson, the notorious, Icelandic paedophile who has spent a quarter of his life behind bars, recently had such a front page dedicated to him. Furthermore, a webpage with exclusive information on Steingrímur opened on the Internet. There, his criminal record, which spans an impressive 46 years, was published in detail. The page also contained personal information on Steingrímur, such as his date of birth, current residence, his parents’ full names, and of course, a recent photograph of Steingrímur. Those responsible for the web page failed to identify themselves, but they did, however, put forth a very explicit opinion of Steingrímur, whom they simply called a “wretch”. Without a doubt, many Icelanders surely agree. Steingrímur Njálsson has obtained deep-seated contempt as a result of his horrendous crimes. But how far can we take our hatred for criminals like Steingrímur? Have convicted child molesters forfeited their human rights?
Steingrímur Njálsson claims to have been subject to tremendous public harassment for decades. In May 2003, two men broke into his apartment and assaulted him. Moreover, he has been publicly attacked, his property has been vandalized and he even claims to have had fireworks shot at him. Some may find that a waste of a good banger. But can this sort of lynch-mob attitude be justified? The answer depends largely on how we view paedophilia. Is it a sexual fetish or, more seriously – a mental illness?
If we subscribe to the former theory, i.e. that paedophiles have a sexual fetish for children, we’ll find it easier to understand why Steingrímur Njálsson has been subject to harassment through the years. From the fetish-perspective, he’s a man who can control his own actions and is therefore responsible for them. The Icelandic legal system has thus far treated Steingrímur and other paedophiles like other ordinary crooks and put them away for periods at a time. This method has not been successful for people like Steingrímur, who upon being released, has invariably gone back to raping and molesting children.
In light of the latter theory, i.e. paedophilia as a mental illness, we will find it hard, if not impossible, to justify public harassment and attacks of a mentally ill person. In this context, it can be argued that both the patient (the paedophile) along with the rest of the society, are being let down. This failure takes place by not providing the patient with the treatment needed for him to A) better control his illness or B) admit him indefinitely to a institution for the mentally ill. At least it’d prevent more innocent children from falling into his trap.
Regardless of whether we subscribe to the former or the latter theory on paedophilia, it is a fact that human rights laws also apply to paedophiles. They have a right to security of person and are protected under the law just like the rest of us, which is probably part of the reason why the website on Steingrímur Njálsson was deleted shortly after it opened. On the other hand, it is high time we find a better solution for men like Steingrímur, who has been sentenced for sexual violence 14 times. The public rage is understandable, but should it be directed at Steingrímur himself, or at the system that makes it possible for him to commit these horrible crimes over and over again? Shouldn’t we be shooting our fireworks at the Supreme Court instead?
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