There was a lot of fuss and media attention a while ago about the housing of infamous pedophile Benno Larue in Leiden. Mass protests, calls for the resignation of the mayor of Leiden Henri Lenferink, followed by much social unrest about what to do with convicted pedophiles once they have served their time and must return to society. Because therein lies the crux of the situation: at some point they must return to society, hopefully rehabilitated, but nonetheless they must return.
It has raised a debate that doesn’t merely limit itself to sexual offenders but underpins a general sense of discontent with the Dutch judicial system that many people have. A discontent I strongly feel is misguided.
Benno Larue has become the poster child (if you’ll pardon the pun) for this dilemma. Convicted in 2010 of three cases of sexual assault on a minor and a further thirty seven of sexual misconduct with a minor he is The Netherlands’ most prolific convicted sexual offender to date. Benno Larue ran and owned a private swimming school specialized in swimming lessons for disabled children. He preyed on the most vulnerable children and abused the trust of hundreds of parents, making this a case that shocked the nation.
Benno Larue has served his time and payed his penance in the eyes of the law. In the eyes of society however one is not let off the hook so quickly. He will be a pariah wherever he goes, for the rest of his life. As a parent I find it difficult to see cases like this from an objective point of view, part of me wants to join the lynch mob and throw him from the roof of the nearest tall building. Luckily for Benno, reason prevails.
It comes down to the question of what we want our society to be like. Do we want a fair and just legal system, unbound by prejudice, founded on the belief that everyone can be rehabilitated and deserves a second chance? Or do we want emotion to outweigh logic, an eye for an eye and members of the public taking the law into their own hands? Does a legal system with harsh punishments, the death penalty and people serving three consecutive life-sentences really help to prevent crime? The statistics refute this. People often call for longer sentences here in The Netherlands and harsher punishments for repeat offenders. I can only assume that they are not aware of the fact that crime rates here in Holland are much lower than in for example America where they have all of the above. Clearly it doesn’t have a deterring effect. The only effect is prisons full to the brim with prisoners who haven’t a hope in hell of returning to society successfully because the prison system is aimed solely at punishment, leaving no room for rehabilitation.
There is no such thing as crime prevention. You can put up an electric fence around your house, invest in security cameras and buy a couple of bad-ass Dobermans to make any prospective burglar poop his pants upon the mere consideration of breaking into your bunker ehm I mean house, and he will simply break into your neighbour’s house. Naturally your neighbour will then see the error of his ways and buy all the same shit so that next time they will break into the other neighbour’s house. This could go on and on until everyone has a house guarded by bad-ass Dobermans and electric fences. Wouldn’t that be a jolly place to live? More so, the burglar in question will be no less motivated to burgle than he was in the first place.
Pedophiles are not going to stop abusing children because Benno Larue gets kicked out of his granny-flat in Leiden. It is not going to solve the problem. Your children are more likely to be abused by your babysitter’s boyfriend, your next door neighbour with the cute dog, or your uncle. Protesting against the housing of a convicted pedophile moving into your city is about as useful as using a fly swatter to fend off a derailed train speeding towards you. It solves nothing and creates only a false sense of security. At least this particular pedophile is being monitored, checked up on and given the psychological support that he needs in order to keep from re-offending.
The same way as all convicted criminals should be aided and assisted in becoming fully functioning members of society again after they have served a sentence that is proportional to their crime. Locking them up and throwing away the key is not the solution to crime and will not protect innocent civilians from becoming victims of crime.
On the news today it was announced that two prominent Dutch academics have called for a system in which local governments will be obliged to provide housing to convicted sex offenders upon their release in order to avoid the commotion surrounding Lenferink’s decision to take in Mr. Larue. I wholeheartedly applaud their suggestion. I do have to wonder though, when will the next discussion arise? Can one protest a next door neighbour moving in who has a conviction for armed robbery? Shall we ship all criminals to some far away land like…Australia? Oh wait we tried that.
People, including myself in the past, often say things like “well I wouldn’t want him living next to me!” when discussing matters such as these. But frankly, we musn’t forget that we enjoy many privileges as members of this society, and with privilege also comes obligation. The obligation to give everyone, even the ones you don’t like, the same second chance that you would expect to get if you made a mistake and committed a crime – because we choose to live in a country with a judicial system built on the principle of rehabilitation. As my mother always says, ‘what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander’.