Social Policy, the Media, and Misrepresentation

By Bob Franklin | Go to book overview

Chapter 13

The ultimate neighbour from hell?

Stranger danger and the media framing of paedophiles

Jenny Kitzinger

'I talked to other senior managers who were in the same hot seat I was in. The general feeling was: this is difficult, this is new. I don't know why that is. I'm quite sure abusers were being released from prison ten years ago and going and living places. But no one was taking any notice. This was something that happened new, different, over the last two years'.

(Deputy Director of Housing in a London Authority, interviewed in 1998)

What happens once convicted sex abusers are released from prison? Where do they live? How are they monitored? Do neighbours have a right to know who is living in their street? These questions gained a dramatic media prominence and public profile during the second half of the 1990s. In 1996 the government unveiled plans to establish an official register of sex offenders which triggered media and public demands for community notification. People began to agitate for 'the right to know' when convicted sex abusers were housed in their communities: the government and 'the professionals' rapidly lost control of the news agenda and information distribution. The names and photographs of offenders were publicised in the press and passed on to neighbours. In some cases direct action was taken to drive these men out of their homes. Monitoring, supervision, 'treatment' and housing of offenders was disrupted and policy makers had to reconsider legislation, policy and practice.

This chapter examines the role of the media in shaping and responding to this crisis. It illustrates how particular events, combined with coverage in the local and national media, fuel debate and examines how media coverage tapped into existing community fears and frustrations. The chapter concludes by exploring how the 'paedophile crisis' built on pre-existing discourses about 'the paedophile' as a particular type of threat. The concept of 'the paedophile', I argue, locates dangerousness in a few aberrant individuals who can be metaphorically (if not literally) excluded from society and it focuses attention on stranger danger in ways which ignore the scale and nature of sexual violence throughout society and, especially, within families.

-207-

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Social Policy, the Media, and Misrepresentation
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Figures and Tables vii
  • Introduction 1
  • References 13
  • Part 1 - Producing Social Policy News 15
  • Chapter 1 - Soft-Soaping the Public? 17
  • References 36
  • Chapter 2 - Media Coverage of Social Policy 39
  • Chapter 3 - Charitable Images 51
  • Chapter 4 - Dying of Ignorance? 69
  • References 84
  • Part 2 - The Media Reporting of Social Policy 87
  • Chapter 5 - Poor Relations 89
  • Notes 102
  • Chapter 6 - Home Truths 104
  • Chapter 7 - The Picture of Health? 118
  • References 133
  • Chapter 8 - Media and Mental Health 135
  • Note 144
  • Chapter 9 - Thinking the Unthinkable 146
  • Note 156
  • Chapter 10 - Are You Paying Attention? 157
  • References 172
  • Chapter 11 - Exorcising Demons 174
  • Part 3 - The Media Reporting of Social Policy 191
  • Chapter 12 - Bulger, 'Back to Basics' and the Rediscovery of Community 193
  • References 205
  • Chapter 13 - The Ultimate Neighbour from Hell? 207
  • Notes 220
  • Chapter 14 - Out of the Closet 222
  • Chapter 15 - Social Threat or Social Problem? 238
  • Note 251
  • Chapter 16 - They Make Us Out to Be Monsters 253
  • Index 269
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