Back to RJ Archive

The sex offender as scapegoat: vigilante violence and a faith community response

September 2, 2009

Scapegoating violence is “that enigmatic quality that pervades the judicial

system when that system replaces sacrifice. This obscurity coincides with

the transcendental effectiveness of a violence that is holy, legal, and

legitimate successfully opposed to a violence that is unjust, illegal,

and illegitimate (Girard, 1977, p.23).” Girard’s theory of the scapegoat

encompasses “legitimate” kinds of scapegoating through our judicial system2

and illegitimate forms such as vigilantism. Bobby Oatway and many others

have been victims of both.

Recently , one of us received this plaintive letter from a pedophile

who has served several years in prison:

“While meditating in the sun today, it suddenly occurred to me that

I should contact you with the following questions.

“Is there anyone in ____ who will dare to help me:

“Is there a community leader, politician, writer, ‘prophet’ who will

help with that?

“Or, is there some divine value in:

“I’d appreciate your comments on these questions.

“Take care………..”

Bobby Oatway, this individual, and every sex offender, knows the experience

of being scapegoated by wider society. Criminologist John Braithwaite refers

to this experience as “stigmatizing shaming” (1989), based upon a “degradation

ceremony” (also a Braithwaite term, Braithwaite and Mugford, 1994) which

both the formal justice system and wider society too readily perform. The

result is an expulsion, a scapegoating that is profoundly victimizing.

Read the whole paper, which is dated, but gives a good introduction to the development of Circles of Support and Accountability.


Blog PostCourtsSex OffenseStatutes and Legislation
Support the cause

We've Been Restoring Justice for More Than 40 Years

Your donation helps Prison Fellowship International repair the harm caused by crime by emphasizing accountability, forgiveness, and making amends for prisoners and those affected by their actions. When victims, offenders, and community members meet to decide how to do that, the results are transformational.

Donate Now