Throughout the summer, Britain has been obsessed with the subject of pedophiles. In July, the news media was saturated with stories of a missing 8-year-old girl whose naked body was discovered weeks later in a field. The News of the World tabloid then published photos of alleged sex offenders.
Aside from being a dubious journalistic tactic, the attention resulted in a series of vigilante attacks against people who had the same surnames as the alleged offenders. As hysteria increased, one man reportedly was suspected of being a pedophile simply because he lived by himself. And last month, one vigilante attack turned out to have been the work of illiterates, who confused the words "pediatrician" and "pedophile," and vandalized the home of a children's doctor in Wales.
Yvette Cloete is a specialist in pediatric medicine at the Royal Gwent Hospital. But to an isolated group of vigilantes, she was obviously a child molester. Pediatric means pedophile, right? These self-appointed defenders of the truth made their position known by spray-painting the doctor's windows and the front door of her home with the word "paedo," an abbreviation of the British spelling "paedophile."
Gwent police inspector Karl Close investigated the attack, and came away with the clear impression that the perpetrators were plain stupid. "Are they just so dull they don't realize the difference between the two?" Close asked the Associated Press. "This is a pediatrician who is committed to helping children and somebody targeted her."
Cloete had been living in the rented home with her 24-year-old brother, and police were satisfied that neither had any connection to pedophilia. The home was targeted simply because of the doctor's title.
Cloete has moved into a friend's home, with no plans to return to her own house. But she is baffled by the misguided attack.
"It is just unbelievable," Cloete told a reporter. "You think that your home is a place to go to be safe, so it is a shock when something like this happens. I suppose I'm really a victim of ignorance."
Police are continuing their investigation, and no arrests have yet been made.