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Vigilance and Vigilantes: Thinking Psychoanalytically About Anti-Paedophile Action

NCJ Number
Theoretical Criminology Volume: 7 Issue: 2 Dated: May 2003 Pages: 163-189
Jessica Evans
Date Published
May 2003
27 pages
This paper presents a psychoanalytic conceptual framework for understanding the protests of members of "Residents Against Pedophiles" on the Paulsgrove estate in Portsmouth, United Kingdom, in August 2000.
In the evenings of the first week of August 2000, approximately 100 adults and children, calling themselves "Residents Against Pedophiles," marched through the Paulsgrove estate. They torched cars and firebombed flats and houses where suspected sex offenders and pedophiles were believed to live, including the residence of Victor Burnett, who had been "named and shamed" the previous week by the "News of the World." Similar events occurred in other areas of the United Kingdom. Anti-pedophile vigilante campaigns unconsciously manifest the strains that exist in the Blair government's dual approach to sexual offenders. These strains stem from the government's use of the administrative techniques of neo-liberal governance and, at the same time, its continuing attachment to the rhetoric of contemporary punitive populism, reinforced by other agents in the public sphere such as the popular press. The outcome of this trend is the blurring of the distinction between vigilance and vigilantism, which can only be clearly understood from within a psychoanalytic framework. This paper argues that the violent protests stem from a vigilante state of mind and the "mind of state" that makes community members responsible for preventing and controlling crime. This is evident in the protesters' fabrication of a "mental list" of convicted sex offenders that paralleled the official register. The author advises that making the identities of pedophiles known to the public does not in itself ensure that citizens will act responsibly and lawfully toward these individuals. 17 notes and 72 references