The Woodsman - Deserving of Sympathy?

I recently watched Kevin Bacon in “The Woodsman”. I thought it was a very good movie. Much to my surprise, I found myself feeling a lot of sympathy for his character, which made me wonder what the teeming millions feel about this subject.

Are child molestors worthy of sympathy? Are they monsters who deserve nothing short of death? Are they subhuman or are they incorrectly wired? Can they become non-threatening?

I’m interested in responses to the general question as well as anyone’s take on the movie itself.

I imagine this will be moved to Cafe Society soon, considering that it’s centered around a movie.

I haven’t seen the movie, but I will mention that a few months back, the new York Times magazine included and article about a man in therapy for preying on two young girls (I think they were thirteen) over the internet. He seemed deeply tortured about a problem that had engulfed him. I searched but can’t find the piece, so if anyone else sees it, please post a cite, because I think it’s particularly relevant to this thread. I certainly pitied him, though I don’t think he should be excused.

All people are people; child molesters (or murderers, or thieves, or what have you) are human, and we’re supposed to be sympathetic to all people. Child molesters in particular seem to be our society’s demons du jour, but they’re just people who have done bad things, and like most habitual criminals it’s probably pathological.

That doesn’t excuse crimes, and criminals must be punished. But we’re supposed to be punishing humans for everyone’s good - we’re not killing demon monsters like in “Doom.”

Essentially, I think we need to draw a distinction between a person deserving sympathy purely because he is a person adna a person deserving sympathy based on his actions. I also think we need to draw a distinction between sympathy and forgiveness or agreement.

I thought about putting it there, but it’s not actually centered around the movie. More of a topic spawned by the movie. I don’t think you need to see the movie to share in the exchange, so I thought it would fit better here.

I’m just curious because of the reactions I see here and in real life, when the subject comes up. Stringing them up by their gonads, stabbing them with pitch forks, cutting their evil parts off…all these things are tossed out as viable punishments for these guys. I just wonder if that’s really how people feel, or if they feel that it is our duty to try to understand, protect, and treat these people as best we can with the little bit we know about this malfunction.

I think we should be very sympathatic as we lock them in a concrete box for the rest of their lives or execute them if the risk of them reoffending is too great.

I also think we should be very sympathetic as we put down a beloved family dog because of rabies.

Watched it on DVD the other night and agree it was an extremely good flic. Bacon’s performance was outstanding. It had to be to elicit sympathy for a molestor, and the direction was also apt.

I almost did not recognize Benjamin Britt with the facial hair, but he was good as ususal, but the actor who really impressed me was Mos Def.

Everything I have read about child molestors seems to indicate it is a deep-seated pathology. Many have asked to be kept in prision as they say they know very well that it is impossible to control the urge. One has to wonder whether it is psychological or hard-wired into the genes.

In any case, it was a harrowing film but very well done on everybody’s part I thought.


I thought the movie was very well done, Bacon was outstanding to be able to make you want to see him overcome his (character’s) impulses and seem somewhat sympathy-worthy. That said, his character lost my sypathy when he:

A. Failed to stop the other molester (Candyman) when he knew what was gonna happen.
B. Failed to reort, even anonymously, the molestation that he knew was happening to the young girl. If he had not drawn out that info from her, he would have followed through with his plan to do it himself.


They’re not neccessarily evil, but they do seem to be somewhat self-delusional and inclined to follow their instincts regardless of whom it hurts. An awful lot of them seem to delude themselves into thinking they’re not doing any real harm, these little boys/girls want it, it’s perfectly natural (only the Man is keeping it down!), etc.

Haven’t seen the movie, but:

Are child molestors worthy of sympathy?

Are they monsters who deserve nothing short of death?

Are they subhuman or are they incorrectly wired?
The latter leads to the former. That I am aware, they have all had the same sorts of things happen to them as a child as they then commit–and at some point during this, they broke. Performing hideous deads becomes the only sort of pleasure they really have, and to me that is much less than human.

Can they become non-threatening?
Unlikely. Child molesters have a very high rate of going back to their former ways…though they can get better at hiding evidence with each trip to jail, so it looks like they cleaned up. And with the severity of their crime, even if they could come to regret their actions you would still have to kill them to have any sort of proper repurcussion.

[my bolding]
The bold bit is interesting, because as I understand it, to be held legally responsible for your crime, you must have been able to exercise a degree of free will - i.e., you choose to commit a crime such as sexual assault of a minor. That is why I don’t buy the argument that it’s “impossible to control the urge” - if you’re not in the grip of a psychosis, then you chose to do it. Would a paedophile sexually assault a little kid if a policeman was in the room? No? then they can bloody well control their urges.

Personally, I think lock them up for life. It’s all about eradicating the danger to others - namely, children in free society.


I saw the film last night, and while it did its best to elicit sympathy for Bacon’s character Walter, I would agree with **River Hippie ** that he seemed quite lucid enough to have choice in his actions, but still chose to pursue another victim.

What troubled me most in the film however, was the means by which Walter achieved his (partial) redemption. Throughout, the police detective assigned to Walter showed his utter disgust at his past crimes, even threatening to kill him. But as soon as it transpires that he has beaten another paedophile to a pulp on the street, vigilante-fashion, the detective is quite matey. So the moral of the story seems to be: if you are a paedophile who molests young girls, but have an incestuous childhood affair as a precursor, and the good fortune to find a girlfriend who has also suffered childhood sexual abuse, and then redeem yourself with vigilante action on a rapist of boys (as Wallter’s victim turns out to be - ‘lucky’ for Walter) you can live happily ever after.

So bring on the lynch mob in the name of civilisation! :frowning:

John Douglas in his books about when he was a profiler with the FBI had the same take. The truly crazy criminals were easy to catch. The guy who waited until the store was empty before abducting the store clerk knew what he was doing was wrong. Otherwise, why wait till the store was empty? They do it because they want to do it, not because the the neighbours dog is telling them to.

Do you have cites for this assertion?
Just wondering-could telling someone constantly that they are “subhuman”, incapable of rehabilitation and deserving of a horrible death possibly effect any efforts at rehabilitation? If the System, and the Society that has approved that System that watches over them has predetermined their failure, what do you think the probable result will be?

Perhaps, but my point was that even should you rehabilitate them, the proper recourse for their crime is to execute them–so spending the money on rehabilitation would be wasted.

To be more specific, I am particularly referring to “snatchers.” Generally, pedophiles will be either of the kind who truly does only get aroused by children and having sex with, or abusing them; or they will be people who weren’t quite broken when they were young, but were sexually abused–and many years later when entering a period of extreme stress finds himself expelling that stress in the same way as his abuser did to him. The first kind will take whatever children he can his hands on, enter professions that are near children, swap photos, and such. The second kind is generally someone who is just generally never comfortable with society, has probably been divorced a few times, and will usually only have any relations with his own or his wife’s children–or perhaps friends of those.

The first type (snatchers), have a rate of about 70% (PDF)recidivism–based on secondary convictions. Criminals who commited non-sexual crimes have (according to the same cite) an average rate of 83%–but non-sexual crimes most often occur because the person doesn’t have the training, connections, resources, nor self-belief–so for them to return to crime is not a big mystery.
However–I only state this because you asked for a cite. As stated, I don’t believe in trying to turn that 70% into 40% not because I don’t think it could be done through rehabilitation–but simply because they are not deserving of such a chance.

As to non-snatchers–I would personally be a bit more trusting that they really are just people who have an issue (albeit a tremendously horrible one.) The main part that worries me would be that if you compare them to say, alcoholics. An alcoholic might get off the drink and stay that way for the rest of his life–but he has to go to AA every week for the rest of his life if he wants to have any chance. And even then–too much stress at just the right time and he’ll be back on that barstool.
So while the crime non-snatchers commited is still entirely unforgivable–so long as all children are out of their reach for the rest of their life–I am fine. If we can convince them of the severity of their actions, even better. But I’ll be waiting for the magical alcoholisism-away drug before I’m going to start believing that a person who has once sampled his drug of choice is not a known and very potential risk to any child.

Why is it “proper” to execute them? I don’t know of any death penalty law in this country for crimes other than murder, and usually it is multiple murders or particularly heinous murders.

Ain’t no one said I was pleased with the system we got–though as has been shown in the Generic Execution Debate thread (which I need to respond to :frowning: ), there are good reasons not to implement a system which executes sex offenders; as I would otherwise recommend it. (Though I am still thinking over this.)

I used to think that as well. Then I realized that murderers kill their victims, who then no longer suffer. The victim of a sex offender suffers for the remainder of their life, and to me that seems a more heinous act than murder.

My $0.02 worth…

A cute sentiment. I take it, then, that your two cents includes mercy killing of rape/molestation victims?