An extraordinary movie is M by Fritz Lang. As I learned to speak German at my mother’s knee, the speech was no impediment. Hearing it and seeing the movie subtitled is a reminder of how close to German are the Anglo-Saxon languages.
Peter Lorre’s agonised admission of his compulsion to murder children was dreadful [the voices, the ghosts, the fire], he moaned that the only respite came when he repeated the offence. His drunken defense lawyer’s speech was also pertinent. He indicted the self-appointed prosecutor for three murders that were yet unpunished and made a case for action willingly undertaken being a criminal act as opposed to obsession and compulsion, where responsibility is clearly diminished.
One of the women in the audience attempted to silence him with an all too familiar argument, that a man who is childless, who has never suffered the loss of a child cannot properly understand the situation.
The statistic of child abuse is in itself an indictment of our patriarchal society: for every three boys who are abused eight girls suffer similarly. However, their perpetrators are rarely prosecuted, being, often as not, a father, an uncle, an older brother.
Against this statistic however I would balance another: sufficient study of sociopaths has been done to establish confidently that a percentage of BOTH men and women have no moral conscience. They possess a charming social manner but are actually ruthless destructive individuals, beyond redemption or cure. In spite of this, when I mentioned to a woman friend that a US woman teacher was recently imprisoned for seducing an eleven year old male student, I received a bizarre response. My friend was adamant that the woman would have formed a loving not a predatory relationship.
There is a remorselessly essentialist argument that runs through this situation: women do not abuse, men are predators, pedophiles are gay. This is asserted despite the known facts: that most child abuse occurs within the family circle, by heterosexual males who molest both boys and girls, simply because of a lack of other outlets.
Trials of such crimes as Fritz Lang depicted are rum affairs. The behaviour of wronged persons often seems like the hectoring of Madame Defarge at the guillotine in A Tale of Two Cities. As Rumpole asserts in his stories of life in the Old Bailey, justice in the adversarial system is more a matter of luck than truth, and depends on so many ephemera.
However much it resembles a circus, our show of justice is still an improvement on other cultures which practise no such civility. Like the Elizabethans, contemporary Iranian crowds gather to watch public executions. The Iranian example is the merest improvement on a citizen being drawn and quartered; in Mashhad gays and women and other dubiously guilty individuals are suspended from cherry pickers on the local oval, until pronounced dead. Photos of the scene show persons avidly recording the event on mobile phones. Please explain!!? Do we want to return to such barbarism? M!? M!? M!?