Hate (7): Should Hate Crime Laws Cover Attacks on Pedophiles?

I won’t repeat my somewhat hesitant argument in favor in hate crime laws (you can go here, for instance). The more limited question I want to talk about today is whether such laws should not only cover hate attacks against blacks, gays etc. but also attacks against pedophiles. (I guess some of those attacks, when they occur, follow publication of the addresses of pedophiles in so-called registers, a topic of a separate post). In case you’re wondering, there are some jurisdictions that have included attacks on pedophiles in their hate crime laws (New South Wales in Australia is an example).

At first sight, it would seem reasonable to include attacks on pedophiles. Hate crime is a crime that is motivated or aggravated by prejudice, hate or contempt for a specific group of people. People can be victims of hate crime, not just because of their mere membership of a group – sometimes, people get beaten up just for being black, for instance – but also because of the activities that they engage in and that are deemed immoral by the wider community – attacks on gays fall under this heading. You could claim that attacks on pedophiles are similar. But I don’t think they are.

Before I say why, let me be absolutely clear: I don’t approve of mob attacks on pedophiles or vigilante violence against them. Far from it. I merely believe that such attacks shouldn’t be covered by hate crime laws. They should be illegal as any other violent attack, but the sentencing or penalties shouldn’t be increased on account of the incontestable hatred of the motivations, as is usually the case in hate crime.

Now, why do I believe that hate crime legislation can often be beneficial but not in the case of pedophiles? Not because I think that pedophiles are less “deserving” than other groups that do and should enjoy the protection of hate crime laws. Obviously they are less deserving but that’s not the reason. Remember the rationale behind hate crime laws: they are intended to avoid situations in which hate crime can stigmatize and terrorize discriminated minorities. By punishing violent attacks against such minorities more severely than actions that are similar but otherwise motivated (i.e. the stabbing of a black person for his wallet rather than because of his race) we can discourage intentional stigmatization and intimidation of an entire group, and we therefore contribute to the ultimate equality of those groups and to the ideal of a tolerant and diverse society. Hate crime laws signal that the larger society is behind the minorities and willing to protect them and elevate them to equal rank. They signal not only that violence as such is wrong, but also violence directed at the marginalization and intimidation of entire groups.

We don’t want any of this for pedophiles. We don’t want them to suffer violent attacks, but neither do we want to grant them equal standing. Moral condemnation of their activities is not unjustified, and they aren’t a persecuted minority. Their activities harm non-consensual parties, which can’t be said of gays, blacks etc. and hence they do not deserve equal standing.

Some would say that the case of the pedophiles undermines the whole idea of hate crime because it shows that hate crime laws inexorably lead to a widening of protected groups and put us on a slippery slope towards an increasing criminalization of society (“what next: make it a hate crime to slash the wheels of SUVs?”). But I don’t think that’s correct. Slippery slope arguments are too easy.

4 thoughts on “Hate (7): Should Hate Crime Laws Cover Attacks on Pedophiles?”

  1. Filip –

    First time on your site, love it and the subject matter you blog on. Will try and read all of it by tonight. :)

    I have one issue with this post – you assume that all hate crime is against minorities. This I feel is an unnecessary linking of the freedom of speech to demographics. What about, say, situations in which the majority-minority distinction is irrelevant – such anti-Islamic sentiments made on an international platform or denying publicly that the Holocaust ever happened? These are termed “hate crimes” in a lot of countries.

    I live in India, and Hindus here form the majority. The law prohibits hate crimes as long as they are directed against any section, regardless of whether they form the major or minor part of the population. So even if a minority is composed of a set of powerful people determined to subvert democratic processes, their actions against the majority are termed hate crimes – whatever the minority or majority might be.


    1. Well Arani, good luck. That’s about 1500 posts to read. Prepare some coffee ;-)

      I take your point. Hate crime laws shouldn’t necessarily protect only minorities.


  2. Enjoyed reading, though I have to disagree and I hope you won’t mind me sharing why. I think you’ve made a fundamental error in conflating the term paedophile (one primarily attracted to prepubescent children) with the term child molestor. The difference is between attraction and action. If you were to argue that hate crime legislation should not be invoked as an aggravating factor in cases of (for example) assault on child molestors, I might be able to agree. After all, in such cases the hatred pertains to the action(s) committed. But if a person who was primarily attracted to prepubescent children but had not acted on that attraction, and was (for example) assaulted purely because of their sexuality, then I would be strongly in favour of this being included in the category of hate crime. After all, they haven’t chosen their sexuality, and if they have the decency not to act on it I’d even applaud them. If sexuality is to be one of the categories for hate crime then we have to accept that this should encompass all crimes committed against people motivated purely by the type of people they happen to find attractive.


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