Family Matters

Should Parents Be Prosecuted for Killing Child Molesters?

Over the weekend, a Texas father beat to death a man he allegedly caught molesting his 4-year-old daughter. Should he stand trial?

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Mark Barrett / Photolibrary / Getty Images

Consider it a warning to those who would stoop to sexually abuse children: on Saturday, a Texas father who allegedly discovered a man sexually assaulting his 4-year-old daughter hit him so hard that he killed him.

And few seemed to care. “Dad’s a hero in my book,” was one of more than 5,400 comments on CNN. “No jury in this country will convict the father,” read another.

The incident took place in Lavaca County, Texas, west of Houston, where the girl’s family had invited people over, including the man who was killed. Neither man has been identified, but Lavaca County Sheriff Micah Harmon told CNN that they were casual acquaintances. The preschooler stayed inside her house while relatives were outside tending to the horses; when her father came back, he found the man attacking his daughter and cut short the assault by punching him in the head multiple times.

The man died, according to preliminary autopsy results, from blunt-force head and neck injuries.

(MORE: Alleged Child Pornographer Replaces Osama bin Laden on FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List)

If the sheriff’s take on the situation is accurate, the father — described by Harmon as “very remorseful” — has little to fear in terms of legal repercussions. Harmon told CNN:

“You have a right to defend your daughter. He acted in defense of his third person. Once the investigation is completed we will submit it to the district attorney who then submits it to the grand jury, who will decide if they will indict him.”

Assuming the situation occurred as it’s been described, it’s unlikely that a grand jury would be able to summon up much compassion for the alleged child molester. There are bad crimes and there are really bad crimes, and sexually assaulting kids falls under the latter.

As the Jerry Sandusky trial got underway Monday, the issue of child molestation has again grabbed headlines. Sandusky, the former Penn State assistant football coach accused of molesting 10 boys, is charged with 52 counts of sexual abuse over 15 years. The contact apparently ranged from inappropriate touching to showering together to oral and anal sex.

(MORE: Penn State Scandal: Can We Trust Coaches with Our Kids?)

Molesting any child is reprehensible, but taking advantage of a 4-year-old who has no awareness of what’s going on and no ability to fight back seems particularly deranged. How might you have reacted if you were the parent? I’d like to think I would have grabbed my child away and screamed for help, but the Mama Bear instinct lies latent in all parents for just these sorts of situations.

“We have an instinctual desire to protect our kids,” says David Finkelhor, 
director of the Crimes against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire. “A sexual threat is seen as a mortal threat against their future and their reputation. It is almost like a trigger where we are completely entitled to feel righteous anger.”

Are we completely entitled to use lethal force? That’s a question that will be decided in the coming weeks. I’m betting the answer is yes.

MORE: ‘Broken Heart’? What Really Killed Joe Paterno