Intended for healthcare professionals

Observations On the Contrary

What should we do with child sex offenders?

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: (Published 26 October 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d6908
  1. Tony Delamothe, deputy editor, BMJ
  1. tdelamothe{at}

Killing them or locking them up for ever are not options

The actor Chris Langham was talking of life after his conviction for downloading child pornography: “After I came out of prison I went to the Co-op, and it was like a really big event for me, and this little old lady tottered towards me as I was walking in, and she looked like she was going to say something really nice. Just a lovely old lady, you know? And she just leaned into me, and she said: ‘People like you should be killed at birth’” (

A week after this interview appeared, two prisoners were charged with murdering the paedophile Mitchell Harrison, who was in prison for raping a 13 year old girl. Harrison had been disembowelled and stabbed in the eye and had his throat cut, in what a criminologist described as a “ritualistic slaughter” (Daily Mail, 3 Oct, p 20).

What is to be done with such people if we accept that strangling them at birth or ritualistically slaughtering them once they’ve offended are not realistic options? There’s no doubt about the devastating psychological …

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