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Panic or Placebo? Enterprise in the Construction of Risk and Fear of the Child Sexual Offender

Part of the Palgrave Studies in Risk, Crime and Society book series (PSRCS)

Abstract

This chapter examines the issue of media and social constructions of sexual offending and how these constructions feed numerous discourses on crime, fear and risk. It will consider these themes through the lens of what has been labelled ‘cyber-activism’ (McCaughey and Ayers, Cyberactivism: Online Activism in Theory and Practice. New York: Routledge, 2003). It critically explores media and societal framing of sexual offending by providing a historical overview of the paedophile ‘panic’, including how the various representations of sexual offending have created public fear over these harmful crimes. Using cases such as the murder of Sarah Payne, the News of the World’s ‘For Sarah’ campaign and the Paulsgrove demonstrations, it shows how shaming practices within the media have influenced criminal justice policy regarding how offenders are punished and managed within local communities. Finally, the chapter examines new forms of media and shaming practices by looking at child sex offender online activist groups. In doing so, it explores the ways that social networking sites and the internet have changed shaming practices and placed the power to shame back in the hands of public.

Keywords

  • Fear of crime
  • Risk
  • Sexual offending

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Fig. 6.1

Notes

  1. 1.

    The term ‘alleged’ is used here not to court controversy or downplay victims ’ claims against Savile, but simply to highlight that in the UK an individual is deemed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. As the allegations against and subsequent investigations into Savile have primarily been undertaken since his death, they have not been tested in a court, so any reference to ‘victims ’ should have the precursor ‘alleged’ attached.

  2. 2.

    Although it is important to note that Whiting’s approach and victim criteria profile suggest that this was not random and he was in fact trawling for another child victim.

  3. 3.

    Ethnographic observation diary, 20 August 2010.

  4. 4.

    For more on this, see Williams and Thompson 2004a, b.

  5. 5.

    This has become more of an issue due to the massive funding cuts applied to both the police and, more substantially, the probation service since the economic crash of 2008 and the introduction of the coalition government’s Transforming Rehabilitation policy in 2014.

  6. 6.

    Although most parents monitor their young children’s internet use closely, online groomers tend to target children between the ages of twelve to fifteen, who usually demand—and are granted—less strict parental control.

  7. 7.

    For example, internet service providers tend to have rather relaxed monitoring protocols due to privacy and encryption policies.

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Williams, A. (2017). Panic or Placebo? Enterprise in the Construction of Risk and Fear of the Child Sexual Offender. In: McCartan, K., Kemshall, H. (eds) Contemporary Sex Offender Risk Management, Volume I. Palgrave Studies in Risk, Crime and Society. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-63567-5_6

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